Disease prevention in a dairy herd requires more than keeping cows up-to-date on vaccinations, controlling parasites and maintaining a clean facility. Besides those important duties, you must make plans for all aspects of your herd's care, as well as train your employees in basic biosecurity measures. If some of your personnel work on more than one farm, it's imperative. Disinfection becomes a way of life on your property.
Practicing good biosecurity measures greatly reduces the risk of disease transmission in your herd. It requires extra work for employees and some inconvenience to visitors but can literally mean the difference between life and death for your cows and your operation. Biosecurity encompasses all aspects of farm management, including even the parking of motor vehicles. After all, diseases found in the soil can enter your farm via someone's tires -- including those of your veterinarian. Work with your vet and local agricultural extension office to come up with a biosecurity plan for your premises.
Johne's disease, or paratuberculosis, is one of the common infectious diseases in dairy cattle. According to the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, up to 68 percent of U.S. herds are believed infected, the disease entering herds through purchase of infected animals. Since testing for Johne's disease is available through fecal, blood and milk samples, there is no reason to purchase cows with unknown infection status. When hand-raising orphan or newborn calves, do not feed colostrum from cows of unknown infection status.
Quarantine any new bovines coming onto your property for at least two weeks, even if the newcomers are up-to-date on all vaccinations. If possible, institute a month-long quarantine policy for new arrivals. If your cows leave the property for showing, breeding or emergency veterinary visits, subject them to the two-week quarantine before rejoining the herd. Always feed quarantined cattle last to minimize exposure to the closed herd or calves.
Immediately isolate any cow or calf showing any signs of disease. That means it should not have contact with any healthy livestock, including animals in quarantine. An animal showing signs of serious illness requires immediate veterinary care. Your vet should perform a necropsy on any cow who dies of unknown causes.
Although it's difficult to accomplish on a smaller property, you should strive to not mix uses on your farm. A calving pen should be used for that purpose only, not for a quarantine area after calving season. If this isn't a possibility, thoroughly disinfect pens and barns before allowing new animals in.
- Penn Veterinary Medicine: Prevention and Treatment of Postpartum Diseases
- University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine: Prevention
- Novartis Animal Health: Dairy Diseases
- Washington State University Veterinary Medicine Extension: Dairy Disease Prevention Assessment Tool
- Ohio Dairy Veterinarians: Prevention of Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases in Dairy Cattle
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.