Each day, you and your employees work hard to keep your cows healthy and productive, to provide them with the best care when they are sick and to avoid mistakes that could lead to violative drug residues. Over time and without critical review, those best intentions could result in practices that might not be the best or might even be illegal. That’s what three veterinary student interns, supported by Zoetis Inc., observed when they assessed health management on 105 dairies.
Using a tool developed at Washington State University as part of a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the interns observed the diagnosis, treatment and record-keeping practices for mastitis, metritis, pneumonia and lameness of 80,000 cows. They compared what they observed with stated and recorded drug use, as well as reviewed drug labels to assess the appropriateness of therapies and completeness of treatment records.
These dairies all had ongoing relationships with their veterinarians and believed they had good records. With an average herd size of 860 cows, the study group reported a mean milk production of 82 pounds per cow and bulk tank somatic cell count of 186,000 cells/mL. They could easily be called “well-managed” dairies. But the findings identified opportunities to improve health management practices and aid in drug residue avoidance.
1. Fewer than 50 percent of the dairies had written treatment protocols. And of those with written protocols, only half were actually applying treatments as written. While up-to-date, written treatment protocols do not magically improve health management, they are an indication that the dairy’s health management team performs regular reviews to ensure the consistent, effective implementation of best practices. Active evaluation and feedback reduces protocol drift and residue risk while improving health and productivity.
Opportunity: Ask your veterinarian to oversee health management on the dairy, and be willing to pay for those services. As health professionals, veterinarians are uniquely qualified to take the lead in developing, implementing and evaluating health care protocols. Regular review, at least every six months, ensures everyone is aware of what is happening on the dairy and whether it is working.
2. Not one dairy had complete treatment records. Complete medical treatment records as described in the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance include: animal identification; date(s) of treatment; drug given and dosage given; route of administration used; and meat and milk withdrawal time, even if zero. In the case of a residue violation, the investigator also will determine what disease was being treated and whether treatment was recommend by a veterinarian. Aside from regulatory compliance, complete treatment records support informed health management decision-making.