It’s always something, as Roseanna Roseannadanna would say. (For those of you who weren’t Saturday Night Live watchers in the late ’70s, Roseanna was one of comedienne Gilda Radner’s finer characters.)
For humans, the “always something” would be the recent SARS illness. For bovines the “always something” is JHS or Jejunal Hemorrhage Syndrome.
We’ll go with JHS as it is shorter and a lot easier to pronounce for those of us who do not regularly discuss sections of the bowel.
The syndrome has been popping up in the literature for about 2 1/2 years now. At this point, most of the information is coming out of other Midwestern states. This probably does not mean that we don’t have the problem in Ohio, rather it may be under the radar at this point.
‘One nasty customer.’ The syndrome is one nasty customer. Cows may be found dead for no apparent reason, or extremely ill and they don’t get better.
If clinical signs are exhibited before death, they may include a major drop in milk production, signs of abdominal pain or abdominal extension. Cows may defecate less, have diarrhea and may have bloody manure or actual blood clots.
If the cows do show some of these symptoms rather than dying immediately, they may also go down. If standing, cows will be “very weak, shocky and pale,” according to veterinarian Sandra Goodman from the University of Minnesota.
Cows that have been necropsied or had exploratory surgery before death have shown “distinct sections of the jejunum (a section of the small intestine) which are distended by a large amount of blood. Affected sections of intestine are sometimes three feet or longer.”
Getting a grip. The Minnesota Vet College conducted two surveys (in 2000 and 2001) of practicing veterinarians and looked at pathology data from their diagnostic laboratories to try to get a handle on this devastating illness.
While there are no definitive answers, this process kick-starts the search for answers, prevention and a cure.
The really bad news is that:
1) We really don’t know what is causing JHS.
Some speculate that Clostridium perfringens Type A may be involved. This pathogen is usually already in the soil and the digestive tracts of dairy cattle.
It does cause a similar problem in calves and other young animals when high levels of carbohydrate and protein become available in the intestine. Other theories revolve around the ration and poor forages.
2) There is no cure.
Those who have experienced the problem indicate 85 to 100 percent death loss within 24 to 36 hours of initial symptoms.
3) Early and mid-lactation cows appear to be most susceptible.
In the Minnesota surveys, 61 percent of the cases were in cows less than 100 days in milk. Twenty-two percent occurred between 101 and 200 days.
4) Older cows appear to be more susceptible.
Only 6 percent of the reported cases were in first lactation animals.
Probable cause? What is causing JHS is still a matter of speculation and theories.
While the Clostridium theory has not been disproved, vaccinating with currently available vaccines has not proven to be an answer.
Others speculate that rations allowing poor rumen mat formation may allow too many nutrients to move too quickly through the digestive system.
Another theory is that poorly fermented or moldy feeds may set up the cow for digestive problems and ultimately JHS.
Whether these last two are the cause or not, working with a good nutritionist to develop good diets and eliminating or minimizing the impact of poor quality feeds will pay multiple dividends unrelated to the potential JHS concern.
There’s too many questions and not enough answers. Is JHS here in Ohio? Probably.
Become more aware of the potential problem. If you suspect a cow has succumbed to JHS, invest in a timely necropsy.
Look for predisposing factors on your farm. Every little bit of information that is collected gets us one step closer to answers. Work with your veterinarian to become part of the cure.
(The author is the northeast Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)