As summer winds down and the smallest hint of fall is in the air (emphasis on small), county fair season is in full swing. Veteran farmers, 4-Hers and those just entering into the world of agriculture are busy blow-drying steers, fluffing chickens and training hogs. Yup, folks are busy. And so are us vets.
The month of August for many farm vets is spent primarily treading water in the vast ocean of health certifications, a requirement for any animal venturing onto county fairgrounds. Checking for ringworm, nasal discharge, foot rot and warts is par for the course as I search for signs of contagious disease before these animals descend upon the public and one another in anticipation of blue ribbons and the occasional funnel cake. Ensuring animals have a form of permanent ID is also part of health paper requirements, and vaccinations are the final piece of the public health puzzle. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common livestock health issues encountered during fair time.
1. Respiratory Disease
Any animal with a runny nose, cough, enlarged lymph nodes or fever will not qualify for a health certificate, which is usually good for 30 days upon receipt. Respiratory disease in livestock is caused by a handful of contagious organisms. Commonly referred to as shipping fever, for cattle, the group of bacteria and viruses responsible for such signs is also known as bovine respiratory disease, or BRD. Highly contagious when animals are housed in close quarters and stressed (such as at barns at the fairground), this disease complex usually has high morbidity and low mortality, meaning it isn’t usually fatal, but results in lots of sick animals.
2. Foot Rot
When mild, it’s just a stinky foot for your steer or ewe. When it progresses, this bacterial hoof disease means lameness, sometimes so severe that the animal is reluctant to move. Relatively easily to treat with antibiotics and strict hygiene, foot rot is contagious and any bovine or small ruminant should have its feet checked prior to the issuing of health papers.
No one likes warts. No one. Although mostly benign in livestock, they are in fact contagious, caused by a bovine papilloma virus infection. The good news is they are easy to control and prevent. There are vaccines available for this condition and, if your animal looks a bit lumpy, the warts themselves are easily removed. If time isn’t of the essence, they usually fall off themselves within a few months.
Usually seen in young livestock in crowded conditions, this is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans. Caused by a fungus (and not an actual worm), this condition isn’t deadly but it is contagious. During a check for health papers, your veterinarian will closely inspect your animals for any scabby skin lesions, especially those that have lost hair and are round in shape.
As tedious and bureaucratic as health papers can seem for both veterinarian and farmer by the end of the summer, there is one thing that is extremely rewarding about the entire process of checking animals and filling out forms: Many of the animals I write health papers for in August I have seen (or even delivered) the previous spring. Seeing a lamb or piglet grow from a roly-poly youngster to a mature, well-proportioned specimen of the breed is very rewarding for me. And, I expect, very rewarding for the farmer, too. Good luck to all of you who are participating in your local fairs this season!