Beef cattle biosecurity and stream exclusion are very important to this large animal veterinarian.
His First Week on the Job
On his first week on the job as a veterinarian back in 1993, Scott Nordstrom treated a case that would stick with him the rest of his life. Shockingly, half of a herd of cattle he examined had died. It turned out that they had been struck by Bovine Viral Disease (BVD), a fatal condition transmitted from the intestines of one animal to the mouth of another.
So Nordstrom set about finding out how they got the disease. The next week, he was called to a farm just upstream with another case of BVD. He traced the source of the outbreak to that operation. “The stream carried the pathogens downstream, spreading it from one farm to the next,” according to Nordstrom.
“The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream”.
Since then, he’s found time and again that as long as cattle are allowed into waterways they are at risk of catching diseases from farms upstream. “The biosecurity program for your cattle herd is no better than the worst farm upstream,” says Nordstrom, who is Director of Cattle Technical Services for an animal health company. “If there is a disease outbreak in the herd upstream or even if they are just carriers of infectious organisms and they defecate in the stream, your animals are at risk if they drink from that stream.”
Nordstrom travels all over the country to test vaccines for his animal health company. “In the large operations I have been on they would never, ever, consider having their animals exposed to a stream or any other body of water,” he says. “It’s just too risky – for both livestock and people.”
Fifty Percent of all Cattle Diseases are Transmitted Through the Oral-Fecal Pathway
“Clearly, at least fifty percent of all cattle diseases in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are transmitted through the fecal-oral pathway,” stresses Nordstrom. “Several of the big diseases in cattle are carried by water. These include BVD, E.coli, salmonella, leptospirosis, and mastitis.” Symptoms of these diseases include fever, lethargy, dehydration, abortion, and death.
Vaccinating animals is a first-line of defense against many diseases. But Nordstrom stresses that “the second line of defense is to fence livestock out of potentially infected waters.”
There are many programs that include funding and technical assistance to help producers fence waterways and provide alternative sources of water for drinking. Nordstrom participated in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program on his own farm. “We did it for herd health reasons and besides I feel good that the water leaving our farm is not going to infect animals downstream,” he says.
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Thank you Scott
Bobby, thanks for this powerful and concise reminder. A great tool for using with farmers. Some agency folks in PA are trying to document decreases in somatic cell counts following buffer installation/limiting livestock access to streams. If you know of any documentation, I would love to know.
David, I don’t know of any at the moment but that would be really good data to share. Thanks for posting your comment.
Super article. You continue to hold a microscope up to this cultural problem and it never looks good at 10x. While our progress in many geographic areas has been achingly slow, decadally slow even (is that a word?) I am seeing evidence of a shift resulting in significant acceleration of fencing projects and pasture management changes to keep cattle out of our streams. Would you agree?
Thank you for continuing to be a leader.
Jeff, thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree, progress continues in stream fencing especially in Virginia. Prior to 1995, we never even thought about it. So, we have come a long way my friend.
Bobby – Thanks for your post. This issue is so important. I hope more producers will listen to Dr. Nordstrom.
This is such an interesting article because I feel like everyone is so used to talking about how cows in streams impact water quality but not how it will effect other cows/animals. I was actually talking to someone the other day who recently fenced out their cows and he was saying he could already tell a difference in their health. Thanks for the different perspective!
Kelly, thank you so much for your comment. Hope you are doing great!
Very basic microbiology/pathology Bobby. What kind of notification of upstream farms can be done to fix this? I recall you’ve had this problem for years, and I’m sure it isn’t unique to Swope.
Anne, thanks for your comment. We have had quite a marketing campaign in Upper Middle River. Every riparian landowner has been contacted several times. There are several really good projects upstream and one under construction now. Middle River could support Brook Trout if we could clean it up. Imagine that!
Very powerful information to share. Thank you!
Fencing cows out of the stream not only prevents disease spreading, but also protects the riparian buffers which shade the waters, add beneficial organic matters, and slows erosion. Half a herd shouldn’t have to die to make this point that letting your cattle in the stream spreads diseases from fecal matter! There are so many reasons not to let the cattle in the stream it’s surprising to me that not everyone understands it’s importance.
This is a very powerful article describing how an issue so bland and basic has created an everlasting ramification affecting all parts of the stream ecosystem and everything that needs the stream for livelihood. The issue of cattle manure is a pretty basic issue that can hopefully become easily mitigated as long as the farmers are more careful with either their dispersion of manure as fertilizer or by taking measures to eliminate the amount of manure lingering around on their properties. Long story short, farmers need to be cracked down on more often.
Cattle having access to streams and waterways presents many potential problems, health-related and ecological. Framing the issue as an envionrmental concern can disuade farmers from wanting to take measures to fence cattle out, but framing the issue as a health and economics issue undoubtedly will hit closer to home as cattle are a big investment and they do not want to lose cattle or transmit diseases to humans and other animals.