Pinkeye affects cattle operations in two basic ways. First are the financial costs associated with prevention, treatment and reduced production and second, it impacts the quality of life and welfare of your cattle. The disease is extremely common, and likely something that all farmers raising beef or dairy will have to deal with at some point. Not taking the proper preventative measures and failing to treat outbreaks early can be costly mistakes. It’s worth it to take another look at all they ways the disease might be affecting your operation.
Let’s start with the cows. Pinkeye is painful. Heidi Ward, a veterinarian and assistant professor of animal science for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture explains:
“It’s beyond unpleasant and irritating,” Ward said. “To give you some perspective, the cornea has the most sensory nerves of any tissue in an animal’s body, so it’s extremely painful.”
“Any time cattle are in pain, they’re going to stop eating — and from a beef cattle perspective, that’s a bad thing,” Ward said. “That’s why I tell the producers that they should be preparing for this, because the affected cows are going to go off feed, they’re going to lose weight, and you’re going to lose value in that particular animal.”
There are a couple reasons why cattle with pinkeye might stop eating. To start, extreme pain can cause a lack of appetite. They also might stop eating because they can’t see. Cows will close affected eyes due to pain from pinkeye infection. They can also lose sight entirely from later stages of the infection. If cows cant’s see, they can’t find their feed or water easily. Not only that, but poor eyesight also means that your cattle could be more prone to accidents.
If cattle aren’t feeding well, they aren’t going to gain weight at typical rates, and they’re not going to produce as much milk. This is where pinkeye can get really costly for farmers. Michelle Arnold and Jeff Lehmkuhler from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at the University of Kentucky say that affected calves are 35-40 percent lighter at weaning compared to healthy calves.
Lower performance in post-weaning cattle has also been documented with reduced average daily gain, 365-day weight, and final weight.
Dr. Ron Clarke of Canadian Cattlemen says that in the U.S., pinkeye affects more than 10 million calves annually, which causes losses of over $150 million a year.
The impact in lost weight gain alone is substantial. For pre-weaned calves, pinkeye is the second most costly disease, behind scours. One study showed a 17 pound (lb.) loss when one eye was affected and up to a 65 lb. loss when both eyes were affected.
Clearly, the losses aren’t only in weight. You’ll spend money on vaccinations, diet modifications, and fly control to prevent outbreaks. You’ll also spend money and time treating outbreaks when the inevitably occur- which can be above $100 per head in cattle.
Impacts of pinkeye don’t stop there. Permanent eye damage from corneal scarring also negatively impacts sale prices in seed stock, and discounts for animals with lesions or damaged eyes can be excessive. According to Feedlot Magazine, farmers need to manage pinkeye around their market windows. Robin Falkner, DVM and Technical Services Veterinarian for Zoetis explains.
Both calves and yearlings graze summer grass and are often marketed in the fall when pinkeye instances are high.”
If we take a calf to the sale with pinkeye, it’s going to get a big discount, he said. But it can hit an operator on a bigger scale.
“What if I’m on a marketing contract to sell 500 yearlings, and I have a pinkeye outbreak just before I ship the cattle? So instead of sending five loads, I’ve only got 3½ loads of marketable cattle. The buyer can walk away from that contract if I can’t fill it.”
Scientists Arnold and Lehmkuhler from the University of Kentucky report similar findings of lower market values for cattle with corneal scarring.
Additionally, the drug cost for treatment, decreased market value due to corneal scarring, the loss of value of show and breeding stock and reduced milk production from dairy animals also make this disease a significant economic consideration.
Reduced milk production in dairy cattle is also a potential impact. When sick dairy cows aren’t feeding well because of pain and discomfort, their milk production is going to decrease.
There are a lot of reasons to try and prevent pinkeye infections on beef cattle and dairy operations. It’s painful for the cattle and can be expensive to treat. If you’re able to treat infected cows early, you could minimize the physical impacts to your herd- in weight gain, eye damage, and milk production. If you’re able to manage pinkeye effectively, you’ll see it reflected in your bottom line.
To learn more about Pinkeye be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of our Pinkeye series.
Part 1 in our series is about, Recognizing and Preventing Pinkeye in Cattle.
Part 2 in our series was Pinkeye Treatment Options for Cattle.
Image courtesy of Canadian Cattlemen