I have an unusual challenge these days: Finding a rancher who will talk about bulls, cows and the sexually transmitted disease called trichomoniasis. No one wants to publically admit their herd has been hit.
Trich, for short, is quietly haunting herds of American cattle, mostly in western and some Midwestern states, often while cattle owners are unaware. A bull can carry this nasty STD his whole life, pass it on to cows, and continue to do this every season. In most cases, if the disease has made its way onto a ranch, it renders breeding a pointless event. The cow usually aborts half-way through pregnancy, or can’t become pregnant at all.
Investing in a bull that is supposed to help grow a herd is costly. If the guy turns out to be a lemon, the rancher is out thousands of dollars. No refunds.
Trich is a major issue for Midwestern ranchers. The herds out west have had it for years because they graze and live on large ranges with others. It gets passed around. In Missouri, for example, there are confined grazing areas, which don’t really allow interaction with a different family. But with bull sales coming in from across the country, sometimes, there is a chance to pick up a dud.
The whole situation gets more and more awkward, because unlike herpes or other undesirable STDs, a bull with trich grazing next to a bull without trich … looks just like the clean one. No rashes or bumps. Instead, it’s scary, asymptomatic and, according to Missouri veterinarian Larry Engleman, “can be devastating” to the integrity of a herd.
But just like humans who get STDs can become branded, farmers who raise cattle with a trich problem can get the same treatment. No one wants to buy from a rancher who has a trich problem. So this is not something you really admit to just anyone — especially to someone whose job title is “reporter.”
But that continues to be my challenge. Look for my story soon on trichomoniasis and how Missouri is advocating prevention methods for the state’s ranchers.