Herd Health: Consistent protocols help keep herd health program on course

Customized protocols help this New York dairy herd stay healthy, productive.

By Susan Harlow

Protocols for treatment of sick cattle, lameness, and herd health have helped Walker Farm of Wayland, N.Y., with consistent performance. That’s been especially important as the herd has grown from 200 to 700 head, and employees have grown to 13, over the last 10 years, said Doug Walker, who owns the dairy with his father, Don.

Protocols are good for uniformity, and they’re especially helpful for training new employees, Walker said. With protocols, you know you’re doing what your veterinarian wants done, he said. If you do that, you’re much closer to finding a solution, and quicker.

Dr. Mike Capel of the Perry Veterinary Clinic, Perry, N.Y., urged the Walkers to develop – and helped design – protocols about three years ago. With the protocols in place, the goal is to have employees respond to health problems earlier and have a higher treatment success rate, Capel said.

Capel also helped develop an ongoing list of cows in the hospital group, with daily computer printouts. The list helps employees provide the right therapy for the cows under a treatment plan. It’s also printed out for Capel’s weekly vet check.

One of Walker Farms two herdsmen, Alex Nisbet, said the protocols are used constantly. Drug dosages can be easily accessed, Nisbet said. The protocols are also useful when employees run into unfamiliar health problems, such as nervous ketosis.

A low incidence of disease is one good measure of how the protocols work, Doug Walker said. “For instance, we have very low DAs (displaced abomasums), 3% to 4%. So we know our fresh cow protocol works well and that sick cows are being taken care of quickly.”

The Walkers also designed a way to track individual cows that might have problems. A cow health sheet is started on any cow looked at through the day, either visually or on a printout, such as those with (milk) deviations, Nisbet said.

Any cow checked on the sheet will be entered into the computer (Walker Farm uses DairyComp 305), so they can go back and check on her later. It’s useful to follow individual cows and, if there’s a string with the same problem, it becomes clearly evident.

Capel developed a stock template for protocols, covering between 20 and 25 common diseases, explaining how to diagnose each disease and how to devise a treatment plan. Adapted to any dairy, protocols can be tailored to individual dairy’s restraint facilities and the expertise of its employees.

“It’s what is easy and best for them. Are they good at giving oral fluids; at giving IV’s?” Capel said. “The better their diagnostic ability, the more specific the protocol can be.  Accurate diagnoses are critical to using protocols.”

Most of the dairies Capel works with have a set of health protocols. “They’re great for residue avoidance, drug inventory and consistency, which is critical,” Capel said. “It takes the musical chairs approach out of it.”

As dairies get bigger and more people are involved, the protocol system becomes even more important. But protocols are only as good as the people who put them into practice. Capel works with dairy employees, showing them how to diagnose diseases first, and then to understand the treatment. Can they diagnose the disease accurately? If not, he works on their physical exam skills, he said.

Capel, a certified veterinarian for New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHAP), advocates for dairies to participate. “It’s a nice yearly check of practices and procedures that are in place,” he said.


■ The New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program, sponsored by the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, is a disease prevention program that pays for herd veterinarians to work with producers in developing herd health plans. For more information, contact your herd veterinarian or regional veterinarian to enroll in NYSCHAP. You can also go to http://nyschap.vet.cornell.edu/about.asp