Episode 190 - Pink eye case study at a heifer grower - UMN Extension's The Moos Room

Dr. Joe: What is up everybody? This is Dr. Joe Armstrong. Today we are talking about a case study. Got an opportunity to go to a farm to investigate a pink eye outbreak that's been happening a lot. A lot of frustrating things with this one, and I don't think it's unique to this farm. Pink eye is a hassle and we don't have a good handle on what's going on, especially when we run down the list of all the rule-outs and everything's going really, really well. To get you up to speed, this farm is raising heifers for a dairy. They have all the replacements, basically from 400 pounds until they're bred, and then they go back to the dairy.
What we see is they have a receiving barn, mono slope, built pretty well, good airflow, and there's four to five pens in that barn. Cattle come in, in groups of 8 to 10, and then they work their way down the barn as they get older, and then they get pushed out into a bigger lot with older animals, and we're in a continuous flow situation. The pen outside never really is empty, it just has animals continually going out and then animals come in, in groups. Now in the mono slope barn, we're seeing pen moves, over a two-month period they're moving three to four times as they move down the barn, and then at the end, they get pushed out into the group lot. Now, if you're a beef producer, this sounds like overhandling, but in the dairy world, when we're talking about heifers, for whatever reason, we move them all the time.
It's not a big surprise to me that they're getting moved that often. Would I prefer it not happen? Yes, but it's really not that big a deal. This herd is managed so well, and that's what makes this pink eye outbreak so frustrating. The pink eye outbreak happens after the move out of the mono slope into the open pen, usually about two weeks after they're breaking with pink eye and that whole group is affected. Usually, it's the younger animals, but not always. Sometimes it's the older animals as well. Going into the history a little bit more, this herd used to have a much bigger problem with pink eye, but it was cultured, and now they're using an autogenous vaccine, and it has reduced the number of cases a lot.
Instead of having three to four to five a day, we're seeing three to five a week. Now that's still not great, and if you're in the south listening to this or you're in someplace that's quite dusty and dry, you're just shaking your head and like, "Oh, that's totally fine and totally normal." Up here in Minnesota, we don't expect to see that much pink eye, especially if we don't have any risk factors like dust or bedding the animals with a bale chopper without removing them from the pen, which is a big one. There's none of that going on in this case and the pink eye is year round. We're not seeing any differences between summer and winter.
What do we do in this case where we have a herd that's extremely well managed, feed is great, they're doing an awesome job feeding, taking care of the bunk, watching animals. There's plenty of bedding, manure scores look great. I know what's on paper in the ration is also what's going in the bunk, and it's going well. They're not sorting. I can't find a whole lot of stress except for the social stress associated with the moves. We know that Holsteins are just weird when it comes to social stress. When we take a big group of heifers and we put them in with another group, everything shakes up and everyone's got to figure out what's going on because it's not all in all out. We're not with the same animals every time we move animals out and every time we move animals in, there's a social shakeup, and that dynamic changes.
I do think that there's some element of stress associated with the move and this producer's done an amazing job. They've even started combining groups in the mono slope ahead of time to get them used to a bigger group for them to go out. There's a lot of things they're doing excellent. The way this farm is set up there's just no way to get rid of this continuous flow issue so we're stuck with it. Now the question is, what do we do about it? We've established that this producer's doing an amazing job taking care of the animals. They're clean, they're dry, the feed is excellent, the bunk is managed really well, they stay on top of the cattle and they know what's going on. Now we get to this point where I just get to go in and nitpick.
We're looking for the smallest changes, trying to make refinements that alleviate stress in any way. We're going to make some assumptions here. The feed is good, cattle are clean and dry. We can't eliminate the social stress so we're going to figure out ways to reduce stress in every other way that they're not doing already. One of the things I did on this farm is I jumped in the pen, we walked the edge of the pen right away. Pink eye. What causes pink eye? There's bugs that we can culture and identify, but most of the time we're looking at some irritation, some immune suppression in some way that allows that to get set up. We're looking at Moraxella Bovis being our number one target and can cause pink eye on its own.
To date, and I know I've heard some whispers about some stuff coming out, Moraxella Bovoculi has not been shown to be able to cause pink eye by itself, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to say this, and I'm 98% confident, the same has been said from Mycoplasma Bovis. There needs to be some other insult injury, other bug there first before that bug can take hold. Feel free to reach out and correct me if I'm wrong, send the data. I'd love to see it. If you have data that shows that Moraxella Bovoculi or Mycoplasma Bovis can cause pink eye on its own. I'm looking for anything in this pen that could possibly cause irritation to eyes or could harbor the disease or the bug Moraxella Bovis, especially in something.
My primary target are any loose wire or tin or nuts or wood that these animals are using to scratch on or rub their face on if they do have any eye irritation. All that's doing is that there is a pink eye case in the pen anywhere they're rubbing on something and they're depositing all those pathogens and then other cattle are doing the same and picking them up. In addition to that, we've all seen it, you dump cattle into a new pen they've never seen before. The first thing they're doing is walking the edge and they walk the edge quite a while figuring out what's there, where the edges of everything are, and then on top of that, they're figuring out the social dynamic.
Again, I'm walking the edges of the pen on purpose, looking for any spots that they could be rubbing, chewing on wood, which we all know, heifers get bored, and they do that. In this case, I did find a corner of this pen. They're locked out of the building. They're not really allowed to go in there unless the weather gets bad, just because it's not quite big enough for all of them to be in there at the same time and this producer smartly knows that they shouldn't be in there very often just because of the lack of ventilation. Right in the corner of this pen, we are seeing a spot where cattle are clearly messing around with the building. There's a little bit of loose tin, they're chewing on the wood to the point where there's a big two-by-eight that's almost gone because they've chewed on it so much.
There's a bolt sticking out there. There's a fence post where the gate is attached that allows them into the building that has some loose metal on it. There's all sorts of things where they could be rubbing, and especially that wood almost impossible to clean, especially because it's under the roof a little bit so it doesn't get a bunch of sun. All that said, I'm absolutely nitpicking in this case. We're looking for spots where irritation could start and could lead to the transfer of pink eye between animals because we have basically a spot that harbors pathogens and that's impossible to clean.
In this case, one of my recommendations is just stick a gate across that corner so they can't access it. Now we've eliminated a big source of potential irritation. It seems simple, but when we're really nitpicking on all this stuff, because he is doing so much right I got to find something that could explain what's going on and this is one of the things. On top of that, it's an easy fix 5, 10 minutes out of your day to get that gate set up and block off that corner, and boom, done. Cheap, easy, not a whole lot of time. I love recommendations like that and if it solves it, I'm not going to lie. I look pretty good and we didn't add any time and money to the mix to solve the problem.
This is something we're going to run into a lot when you look at what's going on on a farm. We've talked before about how you have to prioritize and make a hierarchy of the things that are happening and what you would love to fix and what's possible and what's not. You can't go in and say, "Hey, I need you to fix all these things and have it be a completely unreasonable list." Even if it would solve the problem in your opinion. There's limited time, there's limited money, there's limited space. Some things are just a given in a system.
This pen will never be all in, all out. There will always be continuous flow. There will always be social stress in this pen. There's nothing I'm going to do to change that, that's not going to upend this farmer's life and make his life exceedingly difficult or put him at a significant financial risk. It's just not a good recommendation to make so we're dealing with the system as it is. What else can we do? There's a little bit of a ration change coming out of the mono slope into the new pen. There's also a change in bunk. We're going from on the ground on concrete to an H-bunk where everyone muscles up. Great news is there's plenty of space. We're talking plenty, usually I love to see two feet per head and in this pen we're looking at more than that. That's not an issue in my opinion, but it is a change in bunk. It takes them a little to get used to that. The cattle have to learn. Fortunately, the good thing about continuous flow is that they get to learn from the cattle that have been in there already.
Now, they might be timid, they might not be aggressive enough to get up to that age bunk and muscle in, but they don't really need to because there's plenty of space so not worried about that. Water looks good, maybe a tiny bit short, but really if we're looking at the recommendation of one to two linear inches per head, he's got that covered as well. Again, doing so much right. What can we do to eliminate stress or mitigate it a little bit as we change over from a slightly different ration and we have a different bunk and the social dynamic?
Well, one of the things that we can do is we can add a feed additive to try to make sure that our microbiome doesn't take big swings in the different bugs that are there and the proportion of which bugs are there as well. The point of a probiotic, a prebiotic, or a postbiotic which they're all different things now and have their own labels for certain reasons, but in general, the point is to level everything out in the microbiome so that when you do see a change in a ration or you see about a stress, we don't get big swings in what's happening in the microbiome.
It stays relatively level and flat and keeps us from having the added stress of a big change in the microbiome in the rumen. In this case, adding a pro, post, pre any of the biotics is a good idea. There's lots and lots and lots of different products on the market. Personally in this situation, I think a pre or a post-biotic is best. We don't have time to get into why. We're not going to get into it, but there's so many different products. I'm not going to tell you which products today. Talk with your nutritionist. That is the person that knows the most about what we should do in that situation, what products are available and the different price points because that is going to be a big factor in which one you choose as well.
In my opinion, at this farm, if we could start feeding a prebiotic or a postbiotic in the ration ahead of the move to prepare them for the stress of the move and the change in ration, and then potentially also feed it in the next pen where we have social stress from both ends, the younger cattle are stressed going into a new pen. The older cattle that were already there are stressed because now we've got new animals and they need to reshake everything and figure out the social structure. There's stress everywhere on that side too.
If we prepare the younger cattle for the stress of the change by feeding a prebiotic or a postbiotic two to three weeks before they move and then continue that feeding in the pen for another couple of weeks, I think that would be best. Now the reason I say let's just not dump it all in there and feed it all the time is mostly just expense. It can be costly depending on which products you use. Some of the products have more data than others, and I personally am biased towards the products that have more data behind them but sometimes that comes with more cost. Feeding a targeted amount in a targeted window would be best. Again, talk with your nutritionist.
I would feed it a targeted time period before the stress, during stress, and then remove the product. Now at this time, that's really the only changes we're going to make. There are some other nitpicky things that I'm not going to get into. I don't want to give away too much information so that people will start to figure out what farm this is. We're going to make a couple of key changes and then we're going to see what happens because I want to know what made a difference and what didn't. I don't want to change everything all at once and then be stuck with it because I can't figure out what was working and what wasn't.
For now, those are the two changes that we're going to make and we're going to see what happens. I don't expect pink eye to go away on this farm. It's something we're going to deal with and it's going to be a problem for a long time, if not forever. I want to reduce the amount of pinkeye to free up this farmer's time to do other things. There's a lot of time going into looking for pink eye, treating pink eye, worrying about pink eye, and a lot of stress associated with those things, especially because this farmer takes such pride in what he's doing.
The goal is to mitigate it, reduce it to a level where he can take a big portion of that stress off the plate and he can free up his time to do something else productive. With that, I think we're going to call it there. Hopefully, you learn something today about pink eye. If you have comments, questions, scathing rebuttals to anything I said today, please get ahold of me by emailing the moosroom@umn.edu. That's T-H-E-M-O-O-S-R-O-O-M@umn.edu. Check us out on Twitter @UMNmoosroom and @UMNFarmSafety. Check Bradley out on Instagram @UMNWCROCDairy. Thank you for listening everybody. We will catch you next week.
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Episode 190 - Pink eye case study at a heifer grower - UMN Extension's The Moos Room
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