Pink Eye in our Calves and Cows this Summer

Reader Contribution by Faith Schlabach
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We have never had Pink Eye in our Cows before this year.  If we ever have a summer like this again, I will be much more prepared on how to prevent pink eye in our cows and calves and in treating pink eye naturally.  Apparently, all the rain has had something to do with it according to our vet.  It may be the humidity in combination with the prolific swarms of flies that we have had to deal with this year.

Our first case was Molly, who was our Jersey heifer #7, and is quietly aspiring to be a family milk cow someday.  She tests A2/A2, which means she does not carry the A1 mutation that has strong links to several health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and neurological issues and to which I myself react.

Had I known then, what I know now, the outcome for the summer may have been different.  She developed an eye that looked like a white marble and was blind for a while in that eye.  Thankfully, her sight has come back now that it has healed.  At the time, I put her in a dark stall for protection so that the light would hopefully not damage her cornea while in such a sensitive state as this can cause blindness.

As you may know, pink eye is very contagious.  In the end, almost every calf contracted at least a slight case (looks like they’re weeping and they will hold eye shut as it progresses) and some were very severe.  Here are several pictures.  The red dot is a worse case than the white film (almost looks like Glaucoma) or white marble looking eyes.  According to the vet, it can turn green as well.  We did not see that.  The worse cases will be temporarily blinded and can become permanently blind.  In some, you can see an actual puss pocket in the eye.

How To Treat  Pink Eye

We started out spraying Vetricyn (can be bought at almost any farm store) in their eyes.  Then we switched to Super Wound Spray by an Organic vet, Dr. Paul Detloff.  It has garlic, calendula, eyebright, goldenseal etc. in it.  They both seemed to work equally well but we liked the organic spray better.  We sprayed them two times a day but 3 times would have been even better.  Progress seemed painfully slow. 

We did learn to hold the calf’s head against our bodies and pull on the skin above the eye.  This helps to pull the eye apart so the spray will go into the eye.  It’s amazing how tightly they can shut them!  It works best with two people.  One holding the calf’s head against the body and pulling up on the skin above the eye and the second person pulling down on the skin below the eye and manning the spray bottle.  If working alone, tie the calf really short and hold the head up against your body.  For an adult, tie them really short and let them get to the end so to speak of the short lead and just do it.  You could put them in a stantion too.

In my research, I learned that the flies actually bite the cow’s eyeballs and pink eye itself requires shade to heal.  When you have 30 cows you are working with, stalling each one is not an option.  Can you imagine the space, bedding, work scooping stalls, buckets to fill and keep clean, etc. for an already over full day? Not to mention that it is unhealthy to coop them up so long when cows long to chew their cud in the meadow and eat the lush herbal ley and greens.

Cow Masks

We found a woman in KY that makes four different sizes of calf and cow fly masks. We ordered a mask for every foster mom and calf on our farm. This gave them shade and fly protection. 

Unfortunately, the pink eye was already incubating in their eyes and so most of them still broke out. However, they had shade and were certainly more comfortable with the protection from head flies.

You can also buy an eye patch kit from the local farm store. The glue is VERY sticky and lasts FOREVER so beware. In lieu of putting them in a dark stall, it’s a good option other than the mess. Here is one of our Jersey pirates.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we got the bright idea to use colloidal silver in their eyes.  We mixed a 50/50 blend of ionic and colloidal which we mixed ourselves after buying it.  If you can’t find both, I would use what you can find.  We used a 20 part per million strength and added a squirt of 500 ppm for good measure, into an 8 oz bottle that I had on hand.  Again, I would just use what I have.  According to the research that I did, you need to be careful that there are no contaminants in the bottle you are using as colloidal silver will react with any mineral and many impurities and clump back together again into bigger particles than is useful for treatment.  The rep told me even to wash the bottle out with distilled water and to use a clear bottle rather than colored, so one could see if the solution changed color or turned cloudy, which would mean it was in some stage of deactivation.

I have to say that the colloidal silver has worked better and faster than the other sprays.  I think we would have beaten it quicker if we had done that initially.  According to our organic vet, we may have prevented the whole thing if we had put the masks on at the beginning of fly season as well.  We will continue to use the fly masks in future summers but hopefully, it will be a long while before we have a repeat of this summer’s pink eye epidemic.

Currently, we have none that have gone blind, which I consider a miracle. There are some scars left behind that may or may not fade completely according to our vet.

Interestingly, he did not recommend the antibiotic shot in the side of the eyeball, which is standard treatment for pink eye along with a systemic antibiotic shot called LA 200 or LA300 (again, he said that he did not see a significant difference in the ones he treated with antibiotics so we opted not to subject their rumen and bodies to them).  We did have him give two of our worst cases the shot in the eyeball when he was out to the farm for pregnancy checks, but did not see any speedier healing on those two than we did the others.

There is also a pink eye vaccine but our vet said that it only gets 7 or 8 strains of pink eye and there are at least double that number and I am told that three new strains were discovered this year. There is also a nosode to treat pink eye in cattle but as with the vaccine, it must be done before the outbreak starts. Our organic vet used the nosode on his herd and told me that he had either no pink eye or very little.

One additional note; I was always told that if they have free choice Kelp as ours do, you won’t have much problem with pink eye. I also read in Pat Colby’s book about raising Cattle naturally, that it is a vitamin A deficiency. We added Helfter’s (Advanced Biological Concepts) A-mix (A,D, and vits E) to their regimen as well. These may have had something to do with the fact that none of our calves went blind even though we had some pretty bad cases.  I also think that our love, persistence, and prayers saw them thru as well.  We are finally getting to the end of it and are ready to just scratch backs and not spend our “extra” time pulling masks and treating eyes.

Raising Once A Day Miniature and Small Standard Sized Jersey Milk Cows with grazing genetics, raised on REAL milk for at least four months for properly developed rumen, and natural kelp and other supplements. We offer Milking School annually.