Farm vet: I got more than I bargained for with a scouring heifer


Niall McDonald

I was called to a scouring heifer last Sunday, and got a little more than I bargained for.

The heifer was bright enough, had a high fever, and a peculiar explosive 'pipestem' diarrhoea, which basically looked like she was passing her faeces through a straw…unpleasant to say the least.

She was suffering from babesiosis or redwater, which is quiet rare in Co Meath, since it's the first case I've seen here in four years.

It is more common in other parts of the country, and while working with a great bunch of farmers in Donegal I regularly came across it.

Thankfully the farmer spotted her early and she responded well to injections.

Animals spotted late may need blood transfusions, and even with them suffer a significant mortality rate.

The science and pasture maintenance side of things are well documented, but the main points regarding the disease and its treatment I wanted to raise are as follows:

Consider the use of oxytetracyline along with imidocarb for specific treatment of the disease.

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The tick that transmitted the disease, or one of his mates, may also be carrying tick borne fever which will severely delay or prevent the animal's recovery from redwater.

Make a clear note (as always!) in the herd remedies register on the day of treatment, and note that the meat withdrawal is seven months.

Maintain vigilance in spotting the disease, particularly in areas shown to have had problems in the past.

Recent studies published by Animal Health Ireland have shown the incidence of the disease is lower over recent years.

There are a few things here to bear in mind.

The tick population will easily maintain the infection by vertical transmission within the tick population in the absence of cattle, so just because a pasture has been free of stock for two years doesn't mean the disease will not reoccur.

While it's great to see a lowering incidence, probably due largely to improved pasture management, lower levels of the disease often results in a lowering of immunity or resistance in the existing population.

Hence cattle in a certain area that are 'hardy' to redwater may not be as hardy as we think.

Red urine doesn't always signify babesiosis. Other possible causes include leptospirosis, and copper poisoning and bacillary haemoglobinuria.

I'm taking a break from my editorial duties so thanks for reading my articles. Speaking of which, I'm happy to say a few lovely shiny new calving gates have appeared in a number of sheds around Meath - which might spare me from being chased around by wild heifers. Farm safe and farm well.

Niall McDonald is a vet based in Co Meath

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