April 22, 2013

Trichomoniasis in Missouri

The following piece may be used as a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece.

Calving season can be such a rewarding time for Missouri cattlemen. Whether in the spring or fall, watching a mother cow nurture her newborn calf helps us remember the very basic elements of agriculture - growing new life into the food, fuel and fiber needed for the world's growing population.

Missouri's cattle producers take great pride and care in the quality and health of their herds, carefully making decisions about genetics, vaccines, and culling. The health program of your livestock supplier is just as, if not more, important than the genetics. One of the most important health considerations is protecting against Trichomoniasis (or Trich for short) - a venereal disease affecting cattle that can cut calf crops by 50 percent or more.

Trich can be financially devastating for cow-calf producers and can severely limit a purebred producer's ability to market bulls to producers in other states and around the world. We take that threat to our cow-calf producers seriously. The Missouri Department of Agriculture has been very aggressive when it comes to Trich. Since implementing new rules requiring Trichomoniasis testing in 2011, we have completed nearly 13,000 Trichomoniasis tests at the Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory in Springfield.

That makes us a leading state in Trichomoniasis management. We take a scientific approach to identifying, controlling and eradicating this disease, quarantining positive animals and ensuring producers are notified of positive test results. Our commitment to protecting Missouri's producers has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of positive cases. In 2012, our first full year of testing for the disease, we identified 172 positive bulls. Thus far in 2013, we've seen just 13 - a reduction of 70 percent. The testing protocol used in our Springfield lab utilizes a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is more than 99 percent accurate at detecting Trichomoniasis.

Our team of scientists reports every positive test. The high accuracy of PCR creates a scientific basis for very limited chances of a false positive. On the other hand, the nature of the Trich organism and the sampling procedure create an environment where false negatives are much more common than false positives. The science behind these concepts tells us that retesting an animal that has already been identified as infected with Trich could result in a negative result on the second test. However, the science also shows that that there is a high probability the bull has Trich and therefore is unfit to breed the cows in the herd.

Missouri's cattle producers have worked diligently to become better educated about the devastating effects of Trich. I encourage you to visit with your neighbors, reach out to your veterinarian, your county extension staff, local agricultural organizations and other officials to learn more about Trich. Be aware of the risks associated with exposing herds to untested bulls, and ask fellow producers to continue working with the Missouri Department of Agriculture to control this potentially devastating livestock disease.

The value and reputation of Missouri's cattle industry are too important to cut corners. As you watch your new calves on the fresh green grass this spring, ask yourself - What is a healthy herd worth?

Dr. Jon Hagler
Director, Missouri Department of Agriculture

Want to join the conversation? Visit the Department online at mda.mo.gov for information on Missouri's current Trichomoniasis regulations and feel free to share your thoughts, comments and ideas with us at trich@mda.mo.gov.