Ask the Vet

Ringworms and Stress

Stockers are stressed animals, leaving them more open to problems with internal and external parasites. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Boyd Kidwell)


I buy 4-weight stockers at livestock auctions in the fall and spring, and I sell them as 7- or 8-weights. The ones I feed over the winter keep having problems with ringworm. Is there any means of prevention or treatment for the lot as a whole, or do I have to treat them individually?


Ringworm can be a real bear to deal with in cattle. Fortunately, it rarely causes significant economic losses. In addition, it usually does not infect healthy skin.

That being said, stockers are extremely stressed animals and are often not healthy. They are taken directly off their dams to the stockyard. Nutrition is often marginal at best. Many at this stage have never had any vaccinations or deworming, and they've been exposed to flies and other external parasites.

Longer-hair coats and wetter conditions in the winter can lead to very unhealthy skin and coat. Combined with a compromised immune system, it's the perfect place for ringworm to gain a foothold.

First, you need to confirm that ringworm is involved and also evaluate the individual animal and overall herd health. My treatment in these cases initially focuses on correcting underlying health issues and treating for worms, lice and other external parasites. In many cases, after doing this, skin issues resolve without specific treatment for ringworm.

The only practical treatment of ringworm on cattle involves topical antifungal products. Various solutions and ointments have been used, but for these to be effective, the crusts and scales overlying the active infection must be removed by brushing, scraping or scrubbing. Merely spraying an antifungal on an animal does not produce consistent results. This essentially limits treatment to cattle that are easily handled, like show or dairy animals. Stockers would certainly not fit into that category.

In your case, focus on the incoming treatment program and improve sanitation. Before calves arrive, disinfect working facilities, barns, fences and other areas where calves might rub or scratch. Ringworm spores can survive for a very long time in the environment, even living for years in dry areas. Antifungals like captan can be sprayed onto these areas.

Take a "cow-eyed" look at areas around your facility. Walk where the calves will walk and congregate. Pay specific attention to barns, corrals, alleyways and chutes. Look for jagged metal or boards, exposed nails -- anything that could scrape or cut calves.

As with all stockers on arrival, these animals need vaccinations, deworming and very good external parasite control. Calves that are sick on arrival must be treated appropriately. Calves with suspicious lesions can be treated while in the chute.

One of the keys to minimizing disease in stockers is to get them eating and drinking as soon as possible. Many of these young calves won't know what feed is and have never been exposed to a feed or water trough. I recommend putting high-quality hay, very palatable feed, loose minerals and water on the fence edges so fence walkers will be continuously exposed.

Lastly, be sure you watch calves for excessive rubbing, scratching and hair loss. Often they need to be retreated for lice and external parasites to get the job done.

These steps may not eliminate your problems, but hopefully the situation will become more manageable. With stockers, health issues will always be a concern. It is the nature of the beast.