August 2017
On the Edge of Common Sense

My Introduction to Trichomoniasis Foetus

I was the veterinarian for a livestock company in the Northwest. We had 10,000 cows on six ranches in five states with a progressive, well-managed cow/calf operation. The year was 1976.

In October, I preg-tested our cows in Owyhee County, Idaho. The conception rate was 92 percent.

Albert managed that set of 2,000 cows and he was concerned … it should have been 94 percent. We discussed it. I thought 92 percent was pretty good and he conceded the range was worse than last year. I made no effort to find a cause.

The next fall, we worked the cattle again and the conception was down to 90 percent. Albert had been right. I learned a lesson and set about seeking an answer. I must say infertility and abortion in big herds is very difficult to confirm. I went through the testable diseases: vibrio, lepto, IBR, poison plants, selenium, foothill abortion, metabolic disorders and, finally, trichomoniasis.

It was a wild long shot! I had never diagnosed it nor had I ever heard of anyone who did. But I went through the collection procedure on 12 head of Albert’s bulls. I had a small laboratory and was good at parasitology in vet school. There, under my microscope swimming across the petri dish, was a one-celled protozoan with flagellae breast-stroking itself across my screen!

I examined all of the dishes several times and found it in two more bull samples. Over the next month, I called several authorities, professors, state veterinarians and recommended cow vets. To a man, each told me … “It didn’t exist anymore” … “It had been eradicated” … “My sample was a rumen contaminant” … “It hadn’t been seen since the ’30s.”

To humor me, my parasitology professor offered to send me some Diamond media to send back samples. I did. He was stunned! It was like I had struck oil or won the Super Bowl! After the discovery smoke had cleared, I set out to find a cure. The old vet books said trich is related to the protozoan that causes blackhead in turkeys.

Let me condense the next several months: I diagnosed trich at EVERY ranch – positive bulls were culled – all others were treated individually, orally with a 16-ounce dosing syringe – black bucket, caught, haltered, head pulled up with a 10-foot A-frame with block and tackle, and tied it to my rear bumper for five days in a row.

Sarcastic remark: It really got fun by the third day.

I put on meetings for the neighbors, the local vets and the state cattlemen; I became a minor authority. The lesson I learned was to pay attention to Albert. I read articles nowadays discussing the control, prevention and treatment of trich.

To me, it seemed a monumental task, but the hard way was the only way. I remember a call from a cattleman in Las Vegas, Nevada, whose herd had been diagnosed positive. He was griping about having to treat his bulls, so much work, what a pain, is there any other way … he went on and on.

Finally I said, “Just quit yer cryin’, bite the bullet and man-up for goodness sake!”

He said, “You don’t understand … my bulls are Longhorns!”


Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television, and also through his books, cds, videos and website,