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No more Pinkeye, no more tears

Pinkeye is a problem. For you, for your cattle and mostly for your bottom line. That’s why management and control of the disease is critical.

Any producer who has experienced a pinkeye outbreak is keenly aware of the discomfort and lost performance that can occur. Every year, a producer can lose thousands of dollars due to poor weight gains, drop in milk production, labor in treating infections and docked sale prices due to pinkeye. It’s frustrating for producers and downright distressing for the animals.

“Once pinkeye begins to spread through a herd, it's very hard to contain and control,” says Roger Winter, technical services veterinarian, AgriLabs. “That’s why preparing in advance for pinkeye is the best plan for a healthier herd and better weight gains at the end of the season.”

How does it spread?

The bacterium Moraxella bovis (M. Bovis) has been known to cause pinkeye for many years. It can spread in several ways, but by far the most common vector is a face fly that feeds around the eyes and carries infected eye fluids from one animal to another. The first clinical sign of pinkeye is excessive tearing in one or both eyes, then it can progress to the point where an animal holds the eye partially or tightly closed.

Compared with horn flies, face flies actually spend very little time on the animal, so one face fly can spread pinkeye to several animals in the same day. Pinkeye may occur during any season and in all breeds of cattle. However, it usually becomes most active in warmer weather when face flies are prevalent and grass is taller.

“Since fly season is approaching, now is the best time for producers to plan their pinkeye management program,” Winter says. “And since each cattle operation is different, it’s best to evaluate all options before selecting the best course of action when it comes to prevention and control.”

What are the best ways to manage pinkeye?

When developing an annual pinkeye plan, there are key steps that should be considered part of an overall plan: protect the herd before a pinkeye outbreak even occurs, maintain a proper diet and environment, and reduce fly population. Carefully following some of the tips below will help lead to an overall healthier herd.

  • Prevent with vaccines—Calves are most at risk and should be vaccinated along with cows. Vaccine protocols need to be started six to eight weeks before pinkeye cases typically begin within the herd. Several vaccines are available, which can make it difficult when selecting the best option for a herd. When evaluating pinkeye vaccines, a producer will want to make sure it has proven efficacy and that it’s safe. It’s best to look for a company that has a long track record of safely resolving pinkeye.

More importantly, there is a significant amount of variation between M. bovis field isolates, Winter says. “Producers should select a vaccine that contains as many M. bovis isolates as possible to provide the widest degree of protection. While some commercial vaccines contain only three isolates, there are broad-spectrum vaccines that contain eight different isolates.”

I-SITE XP®, a vaccine available from AgriLabs, has been proven effective against eight M. bovis isolates, plus it is safe and easy to administer. It also has a strong record of safety and is effective, even during outbreaks.

  • Manage the environment and provide proper nutrition—Eye irritation can be caused by tall grasses, so it’s best to keep pastures mowed. Also, as with many diseases, pinkeye outcomes can be influenced by nutritional imbalances, so it’s key to provide proper amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals.
  • Control with insecticides—A good fly control program is also essential. While there are many products available, it comes down to finding the right fly control tools that best fit an operation’s needs in terms of product and ease of application.

“While some products require confining the cattle or running them through a chute, there is an easier way to manage flies on cows and bulls, especially when it’s hot,” said Adam Yankowsky, business unit manager, AgriLabs. “That option is the VetGun™,” said Yankowsky. It is a low-stress, no-confining approach.”

VetGun™ uses CO2 power to project a precise dosage of AiM-L VetCap® containing an EPA-approved topical insecticide, Lambda Cyhalothrin, to treat the animal. The gelatin capsule bursts upon impact, allowing the topically applied insecticide to go to work immediately, an appreciated benefit of the AiM-L VetCap®.

With this application system, the insecticide can be applied to cattle at a range of 15 to 30 feet, allowing the producer to treat animals from a safe distance, without risk of injury to either rancher or cattle. It’s as simple as laying down a lick, hay or feed to create a positive correlation with the dosing process.

VetGun™ delivers results for Askren Farms—with no stress, handling, or confining.

Don Askren Jr. operates a cow-calf farm in Holton, Kan. After experiencing pinkeye in his operation the last few years, he decided to purchase a VetGun™ to help deter flies from spreading the disease.

“The first time we brought home the VetGun™, my wife was able to treat 20 cows in 10 minutes while still learning how to aim the gun,” Askren said. “We were very surprised at how easy it was to use and operate. Even my dad, who is 82 years old and has been a producer for 30 years, had the same results. He treated all his cows in two to three minutes.”

For Askren, it wasn’t just the ease of use, but also the savings.

“You don’t have to mix up a sprayer and over spray or even miss some of the cows,” Askren said. “Then most of the time you’re left with a half-tank of spray and don’t know what to do with it. With the VetGun™, you can just go out and treat 10 cows that day and not the whole herd. Then you’re only out 10 applications and everything else can be utilized next time. And if you notice you have a fly problem, you can be out in the pasture shooting and in five minutes you’re finished. It’s that easy.”

Askren, along with most producers, knows that response time and management is key. The quicker a rancher responds to increasing fly numbers along with the implementation of an integrated pest management program, the more likely they will reduce the overall effect on their cattle herd.

For more information about VetGun™ and pinkeye vaccine options, please contact your local dealer or visit