Management changes reduced Johne’s disease incidence

by T.S. Gatz

A six-year demonstration herd project involving nine Wisconsin dairies shows dairy producers who change husbandry significantly—and do it well—can lower the rate of Johne’s disease infection in their herd. At the conclusion of the trial, the rate of infection moved from a 9.8% average across the nine trial herds to just 3.2%.

The project focused primarily on two simple steps: hygiene and testing. The hygiene component included just four “to do” items:

1) prompt calf removal from the cow;

2) feed high-quality colostrums from a test-negative cow;

3) feed pasteurized milk until weaning; and

4) implement a hygienic rearing system that has feed and water free from manure contamination. The testing part of the project involved testing all cows once in each lactation, labeling ELISA-positive or “suspect” cows and using separate maternity pens for ELISA-negative cows.

Dairy producers Mark Breunig, A-OK Farms, Sheboygan Falls, Wis.; Chuck Ripp, Ripp’s Dairy Valley LLC; Ken Verhasselt, Verhasselt Farms, Kaukauna, Wis.; and Harvey and Jackie Mess, Lawn View Farm, Norwalk, Wis., were among the nine Wisconsin herds involved in the field trial. All four agree that the management practices undertaken on their dairies proved to be wise investments of time, labor and dollars.

“Before the field trial, we thought we could visually see the cows that were infected with Johne’s, but we learned that we couldn’t,” Ken Verhasselt stated. “And, while it was hard to sell the strong-positive cows and a big challenge segregating our newborn calves, both of these changes in management proved to be smart moves.”

Chuck Ripp said, in addition to identifying and culling strong-positive cows, the “best” management move his dairy made during the field trial was switching to giving newborn calves colostrum from negative-test cows. He emphasized that it’s the little things that can make the big difference in lessening Johne’s in a herd.

Dairy producer Mark Bruening saw his within-herd incidence of Johne’s move from 13 percent positive to less than 3%. This improvement, he said, traced to numerous management changes that also spread over to other areas of improved herd health. “And we learned that good animal husbandry practices make everything go easier,” Bruening summarized. 

Lawn View Farm, owned by Harvey and Jackie Mess of Norwalk, Wis., called the learning about Johne’s and implementing management changes a “life-saving program.” “Our milk check is bigger, our cows are healthier, and we’re in this business for the long haul. Our goal now is to share our story and help other producers get serious about controlling Johne’s disease. We’re living proof that a control program is both possible. . .and affordable.”

To learn more about results of this demonstration herd project—and each participating herd owner’s perspective on the project and Johne’s disease control in general, please go online to www.johnesdisease.org where the 29-page document “Healthy Cows-unabridged” is available. Simply click on the “Educational Material” tab at the top of the web page, followed by a click on “Healthy Cows unabridged.” The document is presented in printable pdf form and includes a handy “Preventing Infectious Disease or Pathogens on Your Dairy Farm” sheet. The “Educational Material” tab offers additional material such as “Raising Calves. . .The 5 C’s of a Healthy Start,”  a Johne’s testing brochure, a Johne’s prevention and control brochure for dairies and a Johne’s prevention and control brochure for beef producers.

The six-year demonstration herd project was headed by Dr. Michael Collins of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, with Dr. Vic Eggleston of the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine as project manager.  

Financial support for the field trial came from USDA-APHIS-Veterinary Services, the University of Wisconsin Industrial and Economic Development Research Fund, the Wisconsin Agriculture Experiment Station, the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the nine cooperating dairy producers who paid for the required management changes on their farms and the sample collection from all of their cows for the six years of the project.

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