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Stackyard News Apr 08

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Sudden Death Warning for Beef and Dairy Farmers

Beef and dairy cattle across the country are at risk of sudden death as a result of a number of unpredictable diseases according to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).


dairy cattle

This is the key message that is being conveyed to beef and dairy farmers who are attending a series of 14 meetings being held at the VLA’s regional laboratories from Wednesday 9th April to Thursday 1st May.

The meetings, which are being sponsored by Schering-Plough Animal Health, will warn farmers of the dangers that infections such as pneumonia and clostridial disease can bring to livestock and inform them of the measures necessary to prevent future losses. The importance of ruling out anthrax as a possible cause will also be emphasised.

Each year approximately 1 in 8 beef or dairy animals die unexpectedly on farm, with the winter months posing the greatest risk, particularly to younger cattle and calves. However, sudden deaths can occur at any time of the year and as such it is essential that farmers work closely with their local vet and VLA veterinary investigation officer in order to prevent further loss of life.

David Harwood MRCVS from the VLA laboratory in Winchester explains that, “Most sudden deaths in cattle are preventable if you take the appropriate preventative measures. Unfortunately, the causes of sudden deaths can often be unpredictable and commonly misunderstood. As such, many sudden deaths are mistakenly blamed on other causes such as poisoning or lightning strike.

“One of the most common causes of sudden deaths in cattle and calves is clostridial disease, which is capable of killing animals quickly and with few warning signs. The organisms which cause these diseases are widely distributed in the natural environment and can be found in the gut and tissues of many clinically normal animals.”

Mr Harwood continues to explain that, “These diseases are not necessarily brought in by recently purchased animals and could already be on many farms. They can be difficult to control unless proper preventative measures are put in place.”

Paul Williams MRCVS, livestock veterinary advisor for Schering-Plough Animal Health explains that, “There are at least 10 major clostridial bacteria that can cause sudden deaths in livestock. For much of the time, the bacteria remain dormant. However, when trigger factors such as injury, bruising and stress stimulate the bacteria to multiply, toxins are released in large quantities. The toxins then attack the muscles, gut and liver, leading to severe disease and ultimately death.”

Mr Williams continues, “The quick onset of these diseases means that intensive treatment using antibiotics is rarely effective. However, protection can be achieved by using a broad-spectrum vaccine to provide animals with the necessary antibodies to combat all strains of the lethal toxins. Vaccination is therefore the only viable control option and is vital for the protection of animals and profit margins.”

Farmers who want to provide the best possible protection for their animals are therefore advised to adopt the following safety measures:

  • Any mature bovine animal that is found dead should be investigated as soon as possible;
  • Discuss the best course of action with their local vet, including a post mortem examination if necessary;
  • Good animal management and the use of a broad-spectrum vaccination can provide effective protection against many of the common causes of sudden death.

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