Pinkeye Prevention: Frequently Asked Questions

Pinkeye prevention requires consideration of a variety of factors including geographic region, weather, treatment history and prevalence of various strains of infectious bacteria. With any question regarding the health and welfare of your cattle we recommend that you also contact your veterinarian.

Q. What does the average case of pinkeye cost a livestock producer?
A. Pinkeye easily costs producers an average of $100 a head due to reduced weight gain, added treatment costs and discounts on sale day. University research has shown that pinkeye can reduce weaning weights in calves as much as 40 to 60 pounds.

Further research has shown that animals with pinkeye are discounted an average of $11.75 per hundred pounds of body weight when the animals are sold at auction. Pinkeye costs producers money two different ways. Calves that get pinkeye gain less and are worth less per pound when sold.

Pinkeye also costs producers in terms of lost production any time they have to gather and handle their cattle herd-especially the young calves. It's a lot better economically to prevent pinkeye than treat it.
Q. What are the keys to pinkeye prevention?
A. Taking a stand against pinkeye requires a three-pronged approach that includes vaccination, fly control and environmental management. Like a three-legged stool, leaving out any of these key elements can bring down your entire control program.
Q. When should producers vaccinate their animals against pinkeye?
A. Pinkeye vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies in tears that bathe the eye, limit infection and reduce the severity of lesions. Be sure to read the label and give the vaccine before the onset of fly season to allow adequate development of immunity. Generally producers should vaccinate animals three to six weeks prior to the onset of pinkeye season.
Q. How do the best pinkeye vaccines combat pinkeye infection?
A. Vaccines stimulate the animal's immune response to combat pinkeye causing organisms like Moraxella bovis by bathing the eye in tears that contain antibodies against bacterial infection. The antibodies combat that Moraxella bovis organism and keep it from attaching to the eye.
Q. How do you know when you have Pinkeye in your animal?
A. An animal that has pinkeye will go through various stages in the infectious process. The first thing a producer will notice is an increase in the tearing at the corner of the eye, forming a wet area down the animal's face. Then conjunctivitis, or redness, in the eye can be detected. The redness will spread and producers may notice a small ulceration or integrity break right around the cornea area. As it turns white, excessive scaring becomes a concern. The scarring may heal and the animal can be fine, but a permanent scar or a blue eye reduces the esthetic value of the animal, which results in hefty discounts.
Q. What are some important considerations for selecting a Pinkeye vaccine?
A. When selecting a pink eye vaccine, one of the key considerations is making sure it has broad-spectrum protection against Moraxella bovis. The number of strains that the vaccine contains is not as important as the number of strains the vaccine will cross-react with.

That's because there are more than 140 different pathogenic strains of Moraxella bovis out there. Having a vaccine with three, five or ten strains is not worthwhile unless they are known to cross react to all of the most prominent strains.
Q. Should I use an autogeneous vaccine in my herd?
A. Working with your veterinarian you may determine that an autogenous, or custom made, vaccine is necessary to stop the spread of a specific bacterium not commonly controlled in broad spectrum vaccines. It is important, however, to continue to use a broad-spectrum vaccine to provide protection against the greatest number of strains of Moraxella bovis. If your veterinarian determines an autogenous vaccine should be added it should only be used in addition to your broad spectrum pink eye vaccination program because so many pinkeye causing organisms still exist in the environment.
Q. Should producers stop using a pinkeye control protocol if they don't see signs of Pinkeye in their cattle herd?
A. If a producer is using a pinkeye vaccine, controlling the fly population and managing environmental factors, the incidence of clinical pinkeye should be minimal. But just because you don't see it doesn't mean there aren't Moraxella bovis or other pinkeye causing bacteria in your environment. Most likely, it will be present but the pinkeye prevention programs are working to control it.
Q. Which animals should be targeted for treatment against pinkeye?
A. The three-pronged approach to pinkeye prevention that includes vaccination, fly control and environmental management is appropriate for calves and cows. Pinkeye is not isolated to just younger calves; it is not age specific so it can affect any animal in the herd.
Q. How do insecticide-fly tags work?
A. Think of insecticide ear tags as a mini back rubber in each ear. When a cow or calf flips their head and ears from side to side, the tags touch and drag along their shoulders and back. As the tags contact the hair and skin, the insecticide within the tag is released and migrates across the surface of the animal.
Q. Will heavy rains render fly control products ineffective?
A. Environmental conditions can impact fly life cycles and effectiveness of control products. Often following a rain or moisture event, flies hatch in greater numbers. Meanwhile, a heavy rain can wash off some of the insecticide built up on the animal from insecticide ear tags and pour on products. It is likely producers will see more flies on the animal after a rain. It may take a couple of days for the insecticide ear tags to redistribute and build up active ingredient on the surface of the animal at which time fly control will improve.
Q. What do I do first to prevent Pinkeye in my herd this year?
A. The first thing producers need to do is vaccinate their herd. Administer a broad-spectrum vaccine to your animals 3 to 6 weeks before the onset of Pinkeye season.

The next steps are to control the flies that can spread the pinkeye bacteria throughout the herd and manage the environment to minimize eye irritation from seed heads, pollen and UV light.
Q. Why is an effective pinkeye prevention protocol important?
A. An effective pinkeye prevention program is important because the cost of Pinkeye infection can be extremely high. Preventing Pinkeye in as many of your animals as possible is going to keep more money in your pocket and provide a better quality of life for your animals.

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