Make your calves the focus for Johne’s control

Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project shows that dairy and beef producers reduced Johne’s Disease most by protecting calves.

“Focus on the Calf.” That is the bottom line conclusion of the Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project. The project, led by Michigan State University (MSU) Veterinarian Dr. Dan Grooms, was a long-term look at what happened to the prevalence of the disease in nine Michigan herds, eight dairy and one beef, that undertook Johne’s Disease (JD) control programs. 

Areas of risk for disease transmission on farms were identified during risk assessments of each herd at their enrollment in the project. After meeting with their herd veterinarian and the project personnel, producers chose the management practices that they would implement in accordance with their goals. Annually, herds were tested—usually using both fecal cultures and blood-serum ELISA tests—to track the changes in disease prevalence.

Each of the herds, like the overwhelming majority of Michigan herds, was infected with the disease. The percentage of cows with positive fecal cultures at the time of the herd’s enrollment ranged from 6% to 14%. Practices implemented by the producers included eliminating pooling of colostrum or milk for calves; changing the maternity pen or pen-management practices; and reducing the potential exposure of calves to adult cow manure, contaminated feed or runoff from older animals. Management decisions regarding test positive cows included discarding their colostrum, not breeding them, or even culling.

The farms, enrolled for four to seven years, reduced the prevalence of JD, reduced the number of cattle being detected with clinical signs of JD, and increased overall herd health.

The team involved in this project concluded that every producer should put the greatest attention on protecting young calves from potential exposure to the bacteria which causes Johne’s Disease.  This is above all other considerations in controlling Johne’s Disease, including testing programs, culling strategies and various other management options.

Young calves from the moment of birth, are the animals most vulnerable to the risk of infection and  their infection would most likely have the greatest long-term impact on the herd.

In every herd in this demonstration project, producers made significant changes in how calves were managed, and in each farm, the incidence of Johne’s Disease was reduced significantly.

The Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project was part of a larger national project. The Michigan results are being combined with those in other states to increase the power of the conclusions. The farms were enrolled in this project between 2002 and 2005. They represented a diversity of management styles and objectives as well as locations throughout all parts of Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas.

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