Clostridial Diseases in Cattle

Anna Cornforth

Written by Anna Cornforth

Anna is a mixed animal vet
based in Vetlife Temuka.

Clostridial bacteria are widespread in the environment, both in the soil and water, and they commonly cause acute disease often followed by sudden death.  

In cattle the main clostridial diseases we see are:  

  • Tetanus 
  • Blackleg 
  • Malignant oedema 
  • Black disease 
  • Redwater 
  • Sudden death syndrome (C. sordellii) 

Diagnosis of clostridial disease can be tricky. This is generally because you are often presented in the paddock with a dead animal that is blown up and has already started to decompose. As such, post-mortem can be quite frustrating and may not always yield many results. That being said, it is often still useful, even if only to rule out other causes.   

The risk of clostridial disease is usually higher in youngstock when grazing crop or high-quality feed. High carbohydrate diets generally cause dietary changes that lead to clostridial overgrowth, while winter crop is often associated with higher soil intakes and therefore increased spore consumption. Beet in particular combines both high soil intake with high ME, and as such can be a particularly high-risk feed.  

Luckily, despite poor recovery rates, prevention is generally easy to achieve by a good vaccination programme. Basic clostridial cover can be achieved by use of Ultravac® 5in1 at weaning, followed by a booster four weeks later. 5in1 is so called because is covers five of the more common clostridial strains. For more complete coverage however, Vetlife recommends the use of Covexin®10, again at weaning with a booster four to six weeks later. Covexin®10 includes protection against five additional strains, including C. sordellii (i.e. sudden death syndrome).  

How to ensure clostridial vaccine efficacy

It is important to remember that, as with all vaccines, they are only effective if handled appropriately. This means that they must be stored correctly, kept at the goldilocks temperature (not too hot, nor too cold), administered at the correct timing to healthy calves that are able to amount an appropriate immune response, and given via the correct route using clean needles.  

In general, clostridial vaccines should be kept between 2-8C. A study looking at on-farm fridges, back in the UK over an eight-month period, found that 0 out of 19 fridges managed to maintain this temperature for the whole period. 59% of fridges had a reading over 8C and 41% at or below 0C. Without paying attention to all of these details, the level of protection offered may be severely compromised.  

Weaning is also a great time to assess growth, start trace element supplementation prior to winter and get in a first drench if needed. For more information about weaner beef management or to talk about the right clostridial vaccine for your property, get in touch with your local Vetlife veterinarian and we will be happy to go through your options with you.