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Stackyard News Feb 08

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Protect High Value Heifers from Leptospirosis

Now is the time to make sure high value dairy heifers are fully protected against bovine leptospirosis, well in advance of the peak disease transmission period at turnout.


dairy heifers

“Turnout often heralds the mixing of cattle for the first time and the disease spreads easily between infected and uninfected animals at this time of year,” said Paul Williams MRCVS, livestock veterinary adviser, Schering-Plough UK. “Heifer replacements can be particularly vulnerable if they have not had their full primary vaccination course, which is two doses of Leptavoid-H four to six weeks apart. Ideally, the vaccine course should be completed by the end of the winter and at least two weeks before turnout,” he said.

Two strains of leptospirosis affect UK cattle and at grass uninfected stock are suddenly exposed to the urine of infected animals that may be shedding leptospires. Cows become infected through urine splashing into their eyes, mouth or a cut in their skin and from the bull by infected semen. Moist grass is also a relatively favourable environment for leptospires and these organisms generally survive for longer outside the host in mild spring conditions. That’s why the spring is such a peak time for disease transmission.

“Advance planning to make sure heifers are properly protected from leptospirosis is crucial and only Leptavoid-H protects them against both UK strains,” Williams said. “In addition to any bought in stock, it is important that youngstock coming onto the system are fully protected from the disease. Too often heifers only get their first dose at the same time as the annual herd boosters, but this is often too late from a practical point of view. These young animals then get turned out to grass at the same time as the lactating cows, but the youngsters often go to quite remote parts of the farm so it’s easy to forget to give them their second vaccination. It’s important for the efficacy of the vaccine and the health of the animals that this doesn’t happen.”

Sub optimal fertility can cost over £400 per cow. To avoid the potential financial losses associated with leptospirosis, Schering-Plough recommends that all unvaccinated dairy herds should screen for infection using a simple bulk milk test, which avoids the need for blood sampling individual animals.

“The test results will indicate the level of infection in the herd and provide a starting point for developing a strategy to vaccinate against both strains of the disease with your vet,” he said. For beef herds, blood sampling is the only practical diagnostic option.

Dairy farmers can ask their vet to screen a bulk milk sample for leptospirosis through the BLiSS scheme. Alternatively, producers who send milk samples to NMR for fat, protein and cell count analysis can ask for a leptospirosis screen on these samples as well, using the NMR Healthcheck Service.

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