What is Cryptosporidiosis and What can I do About It?

With the advent of calving-ease bulls, one would think that spring has become a little easier for the cow/calf producer. And though it has, this season can still be difficult as the threat of scours continues to plague herds across the Northern Plains. Few things are as frustrating as watching a vigorous calf deteriorate from scours.

Though multiple pathogens can lead to scours in calves, cryptosporidium is particularly troublesome. Often introduced into beef herds when purchasing a new calf as a graft calf, especially one of a dairy breed, it can quickly lead to catastrophic losses. Mortality rates can reach double digits as treatment options are limited. For some herds, cryptosporidium (crypto) becomes a yearly struggle. However, a promising new option exists for prevention.

How cryptosporidium attacks calves
To understand how a crypto preventative may help, it’s important to understand what makes this parasite so problem-atic. The Crypto life cycle begins as an egg in the environment. When a bovine animal consumes the egg, the low pH of the abomasum (the fourth stomach chamber) causes the egg to hatch, releasing four crypto organisms called sporozoites. These sporozoites then attach to the intestinal wall, taking nutrients from the animal and reproducing.

Crypto is a prolific reproducer, which allows it to quickly contaminate the pen or pasture the cattle are in. Therefore, the more cows and calves in a herd that are infected, the more crypto eggs end up in the environment. In a hot, dry environment the eggs quickly die. However, in the cool, moist environment that we commonly experience in the spring the eggs can persist for weeks.

While cows can be infected, they seldom show clinical signs of disease. On the other hand, calves experience profuse, watery diarrhea that is yellow to gray colored. With so much diarrhea, calves can dehydrate quickly. This can lead to neurological signs if the hydration isn’t promptly corrected.

A new option for prevention
Aside from sanitation and biosecurity, there was little in the way of preventative options for crypto until recently. In the last few years, we have been using a product called CelmanaxTM that has shown promising results, both anecdotally and through re-search. Celmanax is a Refined Functional Carbohydrate (RFC) that is created from the cell wall of certain species of yeast.

Research data from Arm and Hammer®, the maker of Celmanax, shows the product binds to crypto oocysts in calves to reduce their shedding of the parasite. By reducing shedding, this allows less parasites to be present in the environment, thereby making it a cleaner environment for the calves.

Anecdotally we have seen success using this product in herds that have consistently experienced crypto problems. We feed Celmanax in the cow’s ration starting 45 day before calving, and then continuing to feed it through calving season. Herds using the product report a decrease in the amount of calves showing visible signs of crypto.

Crypto is a tough disease for any cow/calf operation to deal with. Good biosecurity is the best way to keep it out of your herd if you’ve never had it before. On the other hand, if it is a persistent problem for your herd, Clemanax may be an option to keep your calves healthy.