Three day sickness

by Farmer Liz
Recently our little steer Monty was unwell.  He had the classic symptoms that we have learnt to recognise as "three-day sickness" or bovine ephemeral fever.  Just think of it as a really bad man flu.

eight acres: three day sickness in cattle
Here's Monty when he was sick, he looks depressed, doesn't he?

Three-day sickness is caused by a virus that is spread my mosquitoes and midges, so it is common in late summer, particularly following rain.  It occurs in eastern Australia (mainly QLD, NSW and NT), Asia and Africa.  The cattle show the following symptoms:
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Lameness, muscle stiffness, reluctance to stand
  • Drooling saliva, watery eyes, runny nose
  • Reduced water and food intake
Don't ask me to explain how you can tell if a bovine is depressed, but you really can, they look so unhappy when they are sick.  We know its three-day sickness when we find an animal lying down when the others are eating, reluctant to stand when we approach, running nose and looking unhappy.  We usually try to get the animal to stand at least twice a day as they can damage their legs if they are down for too long.  We bring them water and try to move them into the shade if its hot weather.  If they are unwell for more than three days, that means its probably something worse than three-day sickness, and we would call the vet (so far this hasn't happened).  The animal will usually show improvement by day three and be back to normal on day four.

There's not much a vet can do for three-day, its just like human flu, so we wait the three days and hope the animal will recover.  Anti-inflammatory drugs are a possible treatment if a bovine is really suffering.  So far nearly all of our steers have had it once, and after that they are immune for life.  Vaccination is available, but that is mostly used for bulls, who can lose fertility due to the fever.  Cows in later pregnancy may abort.  We know that Molly has had three-day when she was younger, and its very likely that Bella has had it too, so we haven't used the vaccination.

Have your cattle suffered from three-day sickness?


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