WITH the dryer months ahead cattle producers are managing and monitoring their herds for pink eye.
According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) the infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (pink eye) is a common and contagious eye condition that occurs in cattle of all ages and classes, although most often in calves and younger stock.
The disease can affect one or both eyes and is extremely painful, causing distress and light sensitivity.
Pink eye in cattle herds has been found to cause significant economic losses due to lost production and a reduction in sale value of cattle due to blindness and scarring of the eyes.
Lancelin cattle farmer and Stable Fly Action Group chairman Bob Wilson has discovered and is treating pink eye in his young herd.
Mr Wilson said he monitored his cattle and tried to provide them with the best possible environment, especially when they were in the yards.
He is concerned about the presence of stable fly on his property that has contributed to pink eye in his cattle.
Mr Wilson said the stable fly tended to be more numerous and aggressive when vegetable growers in the area left their post harvest waste on the ground – providing an environment for the flies to breed.
He said the blood-drinking fly had been present on his farm for years, but this year it had been irritating the young cattle so much it had caused them to bunch together for protection, while flicking sand up to ward off the flys – which has gone into the cattle’s eyes, causing irritation and infection.
“This is the worst season we have had for pink eye,” Mr Wilson said.
“In one mob about 80 per cent are affected.”
The most common time for pink eye is in dry conditions, especially in summer and autumn, when there are high numbers of flies present, which are known to be the biggest spreaders of the disease.
The disease can last from year to year when infected cattle become carriers of the bacteria.
The clinical signs of pink eye include increased blinking, streaming and watery eyes, ulcers on the surface of the eyes, cloudy opaque or white spots in the eye (which is the accumulation of pus and white blood cells) and sensitivity to direct sunlight.
Cattle Veterinary Services partner Ian Bradshaw, Busselton, said pink eye had the biggest affect on young cattle, which were not able to be marketed, especially for exporters, because of the restrictions put on transporting and yarding infected cattle.
“It’s an animal welfare issue,” Mr Bradshaw said.
“Pink eye is a fairly painful condition.
“Weaner cattle can suffer a fair set back in that they won’t eat and they lose condition and they are not marketable.”
Mr Bradshaw said while the disease was found all across the State it was usually found in only 1-10pc of a particular herd.
He said treatment of the disease took about two weeks for mild cases and about six weeks for the more severely affected.
Mr Bradshaw said there was a vaccine available but it was a single shot vaccine which was required “a good six weeks in advance”.
“I have several clients who use it regularly,” he said.
“It’s not 100pc effective but it will stop an outbreak and make a significant improvement on the herd.”
The DPIRD website said there was one vaccine on the market in Australia to help prevent pink eye in cattle and it needed to be used three to six weeks prior to the pink eye season and immunity had to be maintained with an annual vaccination.
It should also be used in conjunction with advice from a local veterinarian.
If used in the face of an outbreak of pink eye, results of the vaccine could vary.
The main concern, along with the welfare of the cattle, is the adverse effect it has on the sale value of cattle that have recovered from the disease – due to eye losses, scarring and blindness.
Any cattle unable to see are not fit to load or be transported.
There are also exotic diseases that are reportable in Australia with similar clinical signs to pink eye in cattle.
Mr Bradshaw said pink eye was seasonal and dust, flies and UV radiation all caused minor damage to the cattle’s eyes.
The DPIRD website said that prevention was preferable to treating the outbreak and control measures included reducing dust and controlling environmental factors as much as possible, including when and where cattle are yarded.
Mr Wilson said he had installed sprinklers in his yards to reduce the level of dust when working with the cattle and he had isolated the affected cattle into a separate management group to prevent direct contact and remove the infectious source within the herd.