Regulations keep cattle healthy and consumers happy

Beef cattle graze off the Flint Hills on Sept. 26, 2014. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

Diseases in beef cattle are an obstacle many producers work to overcome on a yearly basis. Most recently, the industry has seen an increase in the number of herds infected with trichomoniasis.

Commonly called “trich,” it is a sexually transmitted disease among cattle that results in infertility as well as an embryonic loss in cows and heifers. Bulls are the carriers of the disease, though they show no outward signs of infection. Unfortunately, there’s no treatment for infected bulls, so diagnostic testing before releasing them to interact with females is recommended.

According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, “After more than 18 months and more than 36 public meetings with at least 2,000 stakeholders, the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health published a final regulation, effective Oct. 4, 2013, regarding trichomoniasis (trich) in cattle.”

Bill Brown, animal health commissioner with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said that 25 infected herds were discovered last year in Kansas – the most ever recorded. Part of the increase in numbers, however, is due to increased testing regulations that began in September 2010 and were revised in October 2013.

“The regulations were enhanced to allow testing for any change of ownership in Kansas, to address interstate movement of open cows across state lines and recognizing a standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test,” Brown said.

According to Brown, spring is the time of year when producers should be more concerned with the disease, especially prior to breeding a bull with the herd. The regulations also differ between bulls and heifers.

Dave Rethorst, director of outreach for the Beef Cattle Institute at K-State, said consumers shouldn’t be concerned with this disease in reference to the meat supply because it is not a food safety issue; it’s an animal welfare issue.

“Having these regulations has definitely made people more aware of the disease and keeping the disease in check has helped keep the cost of beef lower,” Rethorst said.

According to Rethorst, producers are using these regulations to prevent trich in cattle, which can cause infertility and other reproductive issues in addition to being a painful and debilitating disease.

“Producers are taking these steps to ensure animal welfare and health and care for the animal,” Rethorst said.

To test for the disease, there are two procedures available. Kansas accepts culture or polymerase chain reaction test results. Typically, testing is done either by collecting up to three cultures during a three-week period or by providing a single culture for real time PCR testing.

“Certainly, conducting one real-time PCR test as opposed to collecting three cultures is easier, less invasive and less dangerous for the animal and handler,” Jeff Baxter, senior product manager for Life Technologies, said.