Stamm: Pink eye in beef cattle

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, July 10, 2019

If you have been in the beef cattle business very long, it is no secret pink eye can be one of the most challenging health issues an operation can face, especially during the summer months.

Pink eye, scientifically known as Infectious Bovine Keratoconjunctivitis, is a bacteria that attaches to the animal’s cornea and produces hair-like structures.

After it is attached to the cornea, the bacteria releases a toxin that kills cells on the cornea and creates the ulcers that are commonly seen with this illness.

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There is a combination of factors that can cause pink eye in livestock herds, which leads to multiple treatment methods, and more importantly, preventative steps. 

Pink eye in beef cattle can be caused by a number of factors including UV light and sunlight, face flies, eye irritation and other microorganisms.

Lack of pigment around the eye of some breeds of cattle cause UV light from the sun to inflame the eye and allows infection to set up, ultimately leading to pink eye.

Face flies are also a huge factor in causing and spreading pink eye out breaks in your herd. Face flies irritate the eye while feeding on secretions. After doing this, they transmit bacteria from cattle with pink eye to other cattle in your herd which leads to its rapid spread.

Any type of eye irritation can also lead to the cause of pink eye, including the irritation from tall grass and weeds, barb wire, thorns and dust. The biggest factor in this is tall weeds and grass from pastures.

In order to prevent pink eye, you have to consider these causes.

It has been said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This could not be truer than dealing with pink eye in beef cattle.

In order to prevent pink eye, you must carefully consider all of the causes.

It is important to maximize your herd’s immune status through a strong free choice mineral program to make them less susceptible to the pink eye bacteria.

This paired with a strong vaccination program will do more for overall herd health than anything, leading to the prevention of not just pink eye, but a number of other sicknesses. It is also important to maintain a good pasture mowing program to ensure an irritant-free environment for your cattle’s eyes.

Last but not least, try to prevent face flies as much as possible in your herd through the use of rubs, drenches, ear tags and mineral. 

If you have cattle that become effected by pink eye, feel free to contact the Clark County Cooperative Extension Office for advice, or your local vet for specific treatment options.

Early detection is crucial for pink eye treatment and prevention.

Clay Stamm is the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources.