Gereld Stokka

Dr. Gereld Stokka

Coccidiosis has been the topic of conversation for some cattle producers this year as they have gone through the calving season. This is an intestinal disease that generally producez clinical symptoms in calves from 3 weeks to 1 year in age, but has the ability to infect all age groups. Coccidiosis has resulted in the death loss of young calves this year, according to Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist.

“I can’t sit here and say that we have more coccidiosis this year than we have in the past, but the places that have it seem to have it every year and that’s because the ground and other things are contaminated with the coccidia protozoan parasite. The closer that cattle are confined, such as at calving time, the more likely they are to pick up the dose necessary to produce the disease,” Stokka said.

He also expects this may continue to a problem for a while longer this year, since many animals are feeling stress, such as the cool and damp weather we are experiencing, and would be a contributing factor for the establishment of the disease.

There are three things producers can do to mitigate the risk of coccidiosis in future years, according to Stokka.

Through the feed

Feeding a coccidiostat such as decoquinate, or an ionophore, will reduce the amount of eggs the animal sheds into the environment.

“If you reduce the amount of shedding into the environment, in all likelihood you will reduce the risk of those calves picking up the infection,” he said.

Using these products in the feeding program doesn’t require filing a Veterinary Feed Directive, since it isn’t an antibiotic, Stokka noted.

Creating more space

The more space you have the less chances you have for the calf to pick up the dose and develop the disease.

“One way this can be accomplished is by changing your calving season,” he noted. “If you change your calving season so it is later on, and by later on I am probably talking around May 1, where you will be calving on a pasture or some place that is not very confined. That increases space and the distance between calves and a lot of time will take the pressure away.

“One thing that fools people is if they are calving in confinement and moving the calves onto grass fairly soon. Those calves can still get the disease because they may have picked it up right after they were born,” he added.

Treating calves with an in-feed medication

Some producers place a creep feed containing a coccidiostat in front of the calves as quickly as possible.    

Treatment of infected animals

“The life cycle of coccidiosis in calves is approximately 21 days,” he said. “This means that if a 3-week-old calf is showing signs and symptoms of coccidiosis, the calf was exposed to the protozoan parasite eggs (oocysts) at birth. The logical conclusion to young calf coccidiosis is that calving grounds are highly contaminated.”

In young 3- to 6-week-old, suckling calves, clinical signs may develop following stressful events, such as weather changes or if the calves are in unsanitary conditions.

A diagnosis should be based on laboratory findings and clinical signs because other infectious diseases, such as salmonella and bovine viral diarrhea virus, may lead to blood in the stools.

Once it is determined animals are infected with coccidiosis, the infected animals need to be treated for that infection and hydrated. Producers should consult with their local veterinarian in selecting the proper drug to use in their situation. Sulfa drugs and a therapeutic dose of amprolium are available to treat coccidiosis, Stokka noted, however, antibiotics may be necessary if secondary bacterial infections are suspected.

The take-home lesson here, according to Stokka, is beef producers can reduce the risk of future problems with coccidiosis in their herd by working with their veterinarian to develop a plan designed for their particular operation.