Coast to coast, every cattle operation is managed differently. However, every cattle operation has at least one thing in common – it’s infection with coccidia, the protozoa bug that can cause coccidiosis to rip through a calf crop.
“Every cattle operation has coccidia,” says Kansas State University veterinarian Gregg Hanzlicek in an interview with Agriculture Today.
According to Hanzlicek, coccidia is shed from a calf’s digestive system in fecal and can survive in the environment until ingested by another calf. Typically, this is through standing water in a pen, contaminated hay outside a hay ring, feed bunks and even water tanks.
“The times that I’ve seen full blown, really bad coccidiosis is when we had standing water in a dry lot situation with a lot of calves. A calf would defecate in the water where calves want to drink,” he says. “They have to ingest the feces of an animal that’s passing this organism, in order to be infected. It can’t be passed by needle to needle contact, nose to nose contact.”
The highly transmittable organism is estimated to cost the U.S. livestock industry over $500 million a year through loss of feed efficiency and gateway to other infections such as bovine respiratory disease.
“The damage is localized in the intestine, particularly the large intestine. The calf ingests the feces that are contaminated, the organism goes into the small intestine and then large intestine. There it migrates into the cells, the inside of the walls of the inside of the large intestine, and there it reproduces,” says Hanzlicek. “After so many days, they all burst out of these cells at the same time. And that’s when they’re passed in the feces. When they burst out, they’re causing tremendous damage to the wall of the large intestine.”
Loss of feed efficiency and immunity occur because nutrients are hindered from being absorbed in the intestinal wall. Ultimately making a well fed calf turn into a malnourished and even anorexic state.
Spotting the signs
According to Hanzlicek, the tell tail signs of coccidiosis will only occur in more severe infections. These include diarrhea and loss of appetitive. Typically, calves under a year of age, particularly those of 3-6 months of age are the most susceptible.
Because there is no way to prevent coccidiosis in a calf crop, Hanzlicek suggests producers work with their veterinarians to find feed additives that are highly effective in hindering the infections ability of becoming severe.
When it comes to treatment, he says to work with a veterinarian in taking test samples to verify the calf crop is infected with the coccidia bug. If the calves do have it, Hanzlicek suggests the entire pen is treated. For producers owning high stress calves, such as those that have traveled on trucks and newly weaned, he says it’s especially important to start preventative protocols such as medicated feed additives to help build immunity in calves.