Coopers Animal Health, the company that sells Piliguard, a pink eye preventative treatment, has reported a spike in sales as dry and dusty conditions increase cases of the disease throughout the State.
Coopers Animal Health technical advisor Dr Jane Morrison said given the costs associated with trying to keep cattle healthy during a drought, some producers chose not to vaccinate, hoping they would not be impacted.
“Unfortunately, with the prevailing environmental conditions, it has been a bad year for pink eye, with many producers having to treat for more cases than usual,” Dr Morrison said.
She said due to the drought, a large number of producers had weaned calves early into yards that were dusty, causing infections before, during and after weaning.
This confined space has also increased the spread of the bacteria.
The prolonged drought has also left many cattle in poorer condition, making them vulnerable to illness and disease.
In severe cases, pink eye can cause temporary or permanent blindness, and can affect up to 80 per cent of a mob, with affected weaner calves losing 10pc of their body weight.
Sharp Fullgrabe livestock agent Graeme Fullgrabe, Bairnsdale, said infections in weaner cattle had resulted in many producers holding onto cattle rather than selling.
Mr Fullgrabe said he had seen a spike in pink eye outbreaks on farms, but hadn’t seen this flow through to the saleyards, which indicated producers were taking the time to eradicate the disease first.
“As soon as you send something with a bad eye to a saleyard, a buyer will reject it, so there’s no point sending it in, and vendors know that,” he said.
He said with so many producers in the East feeding out hay, it caused the perfect storm for pink eye to break out.
He said the contagious disease was hard to control once contracted in a mob, and it meant producers were struggling to get rid of it for good.
“Treatments have worked initially, but then it’s just come back,” he said.
He said productivity impacts to operations were significant.
“The worst thing is you have to get the [infected animal] in every day to treat them; it’s time consuming,” he said.
Dr Morrison said preventative vaccinations before the onset of the disease were the key to minimising the spread.
“Once an outbreak has started, strategies need to be assessed to achieve the best control and to minimise the number of new cases for each individual situation,” she said.
Stud endures record outbreak
Of all the diseases and problems on farm, pink eye impacts the hip pocket of Murdeduke Angus, Winchelsea, the most.
That’s according to stud co-principal Lachie Wilson, who said last year they had one of their worst outbreaks to date.
“On one day we treated over 50 calves, it was pretty bad,” Mr Wilson said.
This impacted productivity dramatically and meant some heifers were kicked out of sales.
Temperament was also impacted as in his experience, “cattle with a bad eye are harder to handle”.
To prevent a similar outbreak occurring this year, they increased their preventative measures.
In the last four years, they have started using Piliguard, a product by Coopers Animal Health, which can be used in healthy cattle as young as two weeks of age to help prevent pink eye associated with infection by Moraxella bovis strains.
This year, for the first time, they started using a fly treatment on their cattle, and this had “looked promising so far”.
They also put a patch on to keep dust and flies out.
“We’ve only found one out of 400 during calf marking so far, but it is still early days,” he said.
Mr Wilson said as these measures didn’t cover every strain, they were just “controlling the fires”.
He called on industry groups to increase their record-keeping and research into pink eye, to determine whether there were any genetic correlations with the disease, and how that could be managed.