Conditions that contribute to, or cause, common cattle diseases

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The table below will help you identify the conditions likely to influence the development of widespread diseases that can lead to significant economic loss when left untreated, or treatment is delayed. 

Management strategies (see Tool 6.03) should be adopted if conditions for the development of disease on your property eventuate to avoid losses.


Conditions when likely to occur


  • More likely to occur on legume dominated pasture in rapidly growing vegetative stage, in a highly digestible feedbase with low percentage of dry matter e.g. native clovers and native verbine.
  • Intensive feed ration (mainly in feedlot or drought feeding) with low fibre component (>80% of ration as grain).

Pimelea poisoning

  • Accidental consumption of toxic varieties of the native pimelea plant. 
  • Inhalation of plant dust can also cause poisoning. 
  • High risk periods are between August and December.

Conditions that favour the outbreak include:

  • low summer rain the previous year
  • good autumn and early winter rain
  • low spring/summer rain with a feed shortage
  • land with little perennial feedbase.

Ketosis (pregnancy toxaemia)

  • Late pregnant cows in last six weeks of pregnancy grazing dry poor quality pasture.

Calf scours (neonatal calf diarrhoea)

Caused by a number of infectious microbes including viruses Rotavirus and Coronavirus, Protozoa including Cyrptosporidia and Coccidiosis and bacteria including Salmonella sp and a variety of strains of E coli.

  • Healthy young calves often carry pathogens and amplify environmental contamination and adult cows can be asymptomatic carriers of pathogens that infect young calves.
  • All major pathogens can survive in the environment, especially when it is cool and damp.
  • Close contact, poor hygiene and high stocking rates of young calves are likely to increase the risk of infection.
  • Infections are likely to be more severe when herd nutrition is poor and calves receive low levels of colostrum. Calves should consume 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum in the first 24 hours of life.
  • Calving heifers on the same area every year should be avoided and cows and calves removed from contaminated areas to reduce the risk of infection of young calves in the face of an outbreak.
  • New cattle should not be exposed to calves in case they carry new pathogens.

Infectious reproductive diseases

While some reproductive diseases have highly visible consequences, such as late-term abortions, many work silently with the result unseen for weeks or months. 

If there has been a dramatic reduction in pregnancy, branding or weaning rates, or major changes in calving distribution patterns, in the absence of a drought or a seasonal feed shortage situation, the producer should consider that reproductive disease may be present and arrange for veterinary investigations to be done. 

In the case of diseases like vibriosis and trichomoniasis, failure to investigate, and act, may mean that herd fertility could be lower in the following year as well.

Assess the risk of diseases based on previous local history (seek information from veterinarian, state government officers and local consultants) and if available, property history/p>