cows in field

Fly Control & Pinkeye

By Jerry Brunetti

Added June 4, 2012. In articles I've written previously, I've discussed methods and strategies to reconcile challenges from the various families of fly genuses which affect productivity, health and comfort on the farm. This article will focus upon one potential unsavory outcome of fly persistence, namely pink eye, scientifically called keratoconjunctivitis.

Pink Eye is an infectious bacterial disease caused by the bacterium Moraxella bovis, which attacks the cornea, or the transparent layer of the eye which allows light to enter. This painful condition can affect all ages of stock, particularly calves up to one year old during their first season of grazing. The process begins when the Moraxella begins to burrow into the cornea forming a pit, or ulcer, which appears as a small white spot or ring upon the cornea surface. Initially, copious amounts of tears are produced, in order to wash away the infection, as well as delivering antibodies to the site. The eyelids may close to reduce the pain and protect the eyeball, especially from bright sunlight which has irritating ultraviolet rays. If the ulcer progresses, another immune summons begins, signaling a rapid growth of blood vessels across the eye, which appears as a red ring progressing inwards from the rim of the cornea toward the center. The eye may become totally red (pink eye) but there is still an opportunity for the eye to recover, especially if the herdsman intervenes prior to the bacterium perforating the cornea, causing the fluid in the anterior chamber of the eyeball to leak out. At this point, the eye may be lost.

There are natural treatments that can be made that are quite effective in containing the progression of pink eye, but timing is important and dedication to daily treatment is necessary. Begin by making a tea, utilizing approximately (1) oz (30 grams) each of the following of dried, or fresh herbs to (1) quart (approx. 1 liter) of water. Some herbs one can blend are:

  • Comfrey (Symphytum): Contains allantoin, a cell proliferation stimulant for wounds. It also contains a lot of demulcent mucilage to soothe and coat damaged tissue.
  • Eyebright (Euphrasia): is an excellent anti-inflammatory and astringent for all mucous membranes, and especially the eyes.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis): is not only healing to mucous membranes, but it has effective anti-microbial properties that are attributed to the alkaloids berberine and hydrastine.
  • St. John's Wort (Hypericum): has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent and analgesic compounds that speed the healing of wounds and minor burns.
  • Calendula: also known as pot marigold, this plant is rich in terpenes that have demonstrated anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory activities. It's a great partner with comfrey to stimulate the regeneration of tissue.
  • Plantain (Plantago): has valuable healing properties acting as a demulcent, anti-inflammatory, astringent and antimicrobial.

Ideally, after blending in a stainless steel pot, bring to a boil, then immediately remove from the stove and let steep overnight. Then filter the tea through a coffee filter or clean muslin cloth, add about 1oz.of boric acid per quart to preserve the infusion and then refrigerate in a spray bottle, to be used on an as needed bases. I would say the infusion has a shelf life of 1-2 weeks at least. Generously spraying this infusion into the affected eye daily, even several times daily for a week is a sound idea.

In addition to the botanical topical spray, I would strongly urge the stockman to give sub-cutaneous injections of the following "nutriceuticals": 10cc of Vitamin A, D, & E; 10cc of Mu-Se (selenium and vitamin E, available from your vet); 5cc of Multi-Min, an injectable containing selenium, copper, zinc and manganese; and 50cc of a colostrum whey serum. All of these would be given once, maybe twice, 20 days apart.

Prevention is obviously the preferred route to travel, and of course fly control is of paramount importance here. Nutrition creates a hearty immune system. More specifically, good quality proteins (i.e. amino acids) to build antibodies and immune cells; then there are the fat-soluble vitamins A, D & E. Vitamin A, livestock get from the carotenoids (e.g. beta carotene, lutein), Vitamin D they synthesize from sunlight, and Vitamin E (tocopherol) is loaded in fresh green forages.

Let's not forget about the immunity associated with trace elements that should be in the soil and thus your forages such as selenium, zinc, copper, iodine which make up important numerous enzymes that are requisite for strong immunity. An example is the enzyme "glutathione peroxidase" which is made up of the amino acids, methionine, glycine and glutamic acid and the trace element selenium. Livestock or humans can't go very far without it.
Zinc is synergistic with Vitamin A to activate the thymus gland, the master immune gland, responsible for the production of thymic hormones that build T-helper cells and T-killer cells. It modulates the function of lymphocytes, natural killer cells, antibody production, cytokine synthesis and neutrophils. Copper is associated with two important enzymes, ceruloplasmin, and copper based super oxide dismutase (SOD), which prevent tissue damage by performing as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Manganese is a raw material for another SOD enzyme system as well as increasing anti-body titres. The point is that thousands of enzyme systems run the body, including an alert, invigorated and organized immune system. These enzyme "cascades" require comprehensive nutrition.

Build up the fertility of your soil with all the macro and micro elements while not forgetting about the biological fertility either, which is to be sure you have good managed swards of biodiverse grasses, legumes and forbes growing upon mineralized and aerified (not compacted) paddocks so that you can grow roots and build humus. Eliminate or reduce as much as possible the "stress" that hammers immunity and the "terrain" that invites the opportunistic Moraxella bacterium to thrive. In other words, it's a systems approach that requires one to connect as much as possible those very important, seemingly insignificant "dots."

Jerry Brunetti is the founder of Agri-Dynamics, which provides ecologically sound agronomic and nutritional consulting services, as well as offers a line of holistic animal remedies for farm livestock, equines and pets. Jerry educates and consults with farmers who made the choice to transition to ecologically responsible and sustainable farming, and today advises farmers, ranchers, communities and individuals on creating healthy, regenerative and profitable outcomes and solutions.