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Producers need to be aware of enterotoxaemia during calving

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Spring calving season is knocking at the door of many cattle operations across the West, and with this comes a multitude of unique challenges for producers.  

In addition to the more common issues producers should be aware of this time of year, Dr. D.L. Step of Boehringer Ingelheim says producers should also take steps to avoid losses from enterotoxaemia, more commonly referred to as overeating disease. 

“Some cattle may show clinical signs of depression, go off feed, become lethargic and possibly have scours, but most often overeating disease causes sudden death,” says Step. “Overeating disease can be extremely challenging to diagnose and treat before it’s too late, so it’s critical to have preventive measures in place.” 

Protecting young calves 

The first preventative strategy Step discusses is protecting young calves in the nursing phase.  

Step explains clostridial organisms are normally found in small numbers in a calf’s digestive tract. 

“If a sudden or abrupt change in the calf’s diet occurs, such as being separated from its mother for an extended period of time, the calf may consume an excess amount of milk when the pair is reunited,” he explains. “The clostridial organisms may then start to reproduce and release toxins, which may be deadly to the calf.”  

Therefore, in order to prevent overeating in nursing calves, Step says it is critical to manage nursing and minimize the amount of time a calf is separated from its mother. 

Monitoring older cattle 

Step notes young calves aren’t the only animals at risk of overeating disease. In fact, the ailment can affect cattle of all ages.  

“Overeating disease in older cattle is typically related to a higher carbohydrate or starch diet,” he states. “High levels or quantities of carbohydrates rates can result in the proliferation of clostridia bacteria, producing potent toxins.” 

When it comes to preventing overeating disease in older cattle, Step says it is important to monitor dietary changes and encourages producers to introduce feed to older animals more gradually, while being aware diet inconsistencies can trigger the disease.  

Herd prevention 

While preventing the disease may look a little bit different across age groups, Step encourages producers to vaccinate all of their cattle, young and old, with a single dose of seven-day clostridial vaccine to reduce the risk of fatalities caused by overeating disease.  

“A single dose vaccine not only decreases labor costs and logistical challenges, it also lessens stress on the overall herd,” Step states. 

Step notes vaccinating calves early on will promote immunity to the toxin causing overeating disease and help further protect suckling calves. He recommends revaccinating calves under three months of age at weaning or when they are four to six months old.  

Step also encourages producers to vaccinate their pregnant cows to create antibodies, which will improve colostrum quality. 

“Problems can occur when producers stop vaccinating their cattle against clostridial diseases. It is easy to become more relaxed about preventive health protocols following a period without observing the disease,” he says. “With death usually being the first clinical sign of the disease, it is critical to continue vaccinations to keep our herds protected.” 

Lastly, Step says he highly encourages producers to work with local veterinarians to create effective preventative programs against overeating disease, as well as many other issues that rear their head during calving season. 

Hannah Bugas is the editor of the WyominLivestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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