Nowadays, most cattle keepers vaccinate their animals. Most, but not all. Some farmers and ranchers, particularly those who follow organic or holistic protocols, manage to keep their livestock healthy without any vaccinations at all.
The methods of doing this vary, but disease prevention can usually be accomplished by better husbandry and management of the herd. Each infectious disease is spread through a particular route or cycle, and preventing this route or cycle can keep that disease out of the herd.
Leptospirosis, for instance, is spread by contact with the urine of animals that carry it. Rodents, which sometimes urinate in or near feed or fodder, are the most common source of infection in cattle.
“Just try to keep the rats and mice out of the feed,” said Dr. Sally Bard, D.V.M. in Manes, Mo. “Because they’re really bad about spreading it. Anything that urinates in the water (can).” She also says that deer can spread it, because they can be a carrier of leptospirosis, and that deer should be kept out of the pasture.
Blackleg is often caused by puncture wounds in the legs and hooves, since such wounds can introduce or allow the clostridium germs beneath the skin. Cases of blackleg can be reduced, and in some herds even eliminated, by removing the sources of puncture injury, including sharp materials and even blackberry, raspberry and hawthorne bushes. Other cases of blackleg are caused by calves digging in the pasture when the grass is short and the ground dry, in late summer. This can be prevented by ensuring that calves are not kept on pastures that are too short, and by not releasing calves in pastures where dirt is exposed.
“You see it in rapidly growing animals,” said Dr. Bard in reference to blackleg, warning that this class is most vulnerable to it.
Respiratory infections must be prevented largely by isolation, according to veterinary experts. Newly obtained animals should never be turned into the herd right away. Vaccine-free farmers and ranchers typically isolate newcomers in a different pasture, where they have no contact with the herd (more than a fence, thus, is needed to separate them). To be safe, many stock keepers who do not vaccinate use testing instead, and do not introduce new animals to the herd until they have been tested and found free of the common respiratory infections. Even those animals that appear healthy may be asymptomatic carriers of bacterial and viral diseases. Viruses are not killed by antibiotics, even if you use them, and most bovine respiratory diseases are viral. (Hemophilus, is an exception, as it caused by a bacterial element.)
A similar policy is effective against bovine STDs, such as vibriosis and trichimoniasis. According to Dr. Bard, these are commonly spread by the introduction of a new bull to the farm for breeding. A stud bull from another farm or ranch should always be tested for both of these infections, as should a new cow that has calved before or whose breeding history is not known. Virgin heifers and steers, of course, need no such testing.
In addition to allowing veterinary testing, isolating newly-obtained animals before introducing them to the herd allows their immune systems to recover from the stress of transportation. Many viral and bacterial infections, ranging from PI3 (bovine influenza) to pasteurella (also known as mannheimia), are most likely to occur immediately after an animal has been transported by motor vehicle from one location to another.
Deworming, often done through ivermectin shots, can also be accomplished in an injection-free manner. Several effective methods exist, but the one which has been demonstrated most effective in North America is diatomaceous earth, often abbreviated DE. Diatomaceous earth is a type of soil deposit containing the fossilized shells of diatoms, a microscopic plant which is usually classified as an alga. These microscopic shells have sharp edges, which puncture worms, flukes and their eggs, causing all of them to die. Commercial DE is sold under trade names such as Perma-Guard, and holistic veterinarians recommend its regular use as a preventative of flukes and worms, as well as a treatment for existing parasitic infections. Although DE is deadly to these soft-bodied parasites, it is harmless to livestock and humans.


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