The United States Department of Agriculture estimates pinkeye costs the nation’s beef and dairy industries $150 million per year. Although total control is difficult, sound management  —  with an emphasis on prevention  —  can go a long way toward reducing the disease’s impact on producers’ herds and their profitability.

“Pinkeye is one of those realities that every cow-calf operator has to deal with, and it should not be overlooked,” says Bill Burdett, Intervet technical services specialist. “Calves scarred by pinkeye are often docked $1 to $2 per hundredweight at sale, which equates to $6 to $12 per head on a 600-pound calf. Another study shows that pinkeye can reduce weaning weights in calves from 30 pounds to 45 pounds, resulting in lower performance and reduced profit.”

According to Dr. Burdett, there are a number of preventive measures producers can employ to help keep pinkeye in check:

  • Control face flies by applying insecticides through a variety of means, including insecticide ear tags, sprays, back rubbers, dust bags, systemic pour-on products or mineral supplements. Face flies don’t stay on cattle at all times, so a continuous method of insecticide application provides more effective control than periodic methods of application, such as sprays.
  • Tall grasses and coarse seed heads can irritate the eyes of young calves and older cattle alike, so proper pasture management, including practical periodic mowing, should be an integral part of an overall pinkeye-prevention program.
  • Proper nutrition also is important. Low vitamin A intake can exacerbate pinkeye, so producers should strongly consider making mineral supplements available to their cattle.
  • Wherever possible, producers should offer enough shade where animals can limit their exposure to ultraviolet light without being bunched together.
  • Predisposing stress factors, such as other diseases and seasonal conditions, can cause cattle to become more susceptible to pinkeye. Reducing stress can help cattle ward off the infection.
  • Consider using pinkeye vaccine. “No vaccine is 100 percent effective, so that’s why it should be used in conjunction with a complement of preventive measures,” Dr. Burdett says.