Several years ago, I heard the phrase "Lead, follow, or get out of the way" at a residue avoidance seminar at a National Mastitis Council meeting. I've always liked that phrase and envoke it now to challenge the dairy industry to get serious about Johne's eradication.

Until five or six years ago, I rarely had an animal test positive for Johne's. However, I now find increasing numbers of animals that test positive on both serological and fecal culture tests. Many herds buy cattle from across the country and incoming animals rarely get tested. But, even more important is the fact that the Johne's status of the herd of origin is unknown.

Get proactive
In 2000, the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine tested 5,307 blood samples from livestock barns to look at the prevalence of Johne's in the state. Test results revealed that 9.54 percent of dairy cows were serologically positive for Johne's using the Elisa test. If this is accurate, and no control programs are initiated, the incidence of Johne's in Georgia dairy cattle could increase to 30 percent or 35 percent within 10 years.

I recently completed a two and a half day training session to become certified in Georgia's Johne's eradication program. You want to talk serious commitment - 30 some veterinarians giving more than two days practice time and income to enter this program. How many producers would give up two and half days of milk (just flush it down the drain) as an investment into a Johnes program? That's exactly the type of commitment we need to attack this disease that is currently estimated to cost my state's dairy and beef producers from $2.27 to $8.81 million dollars annually.

This certification program is being used across the country to give practitioners the tools they need to help producers eradicate Johne's. Keep in mind, producer participation in this program is voluntary. Each eradication plan is an agreement between the producer with himself to eliminate Johne's from his own farm. Your certified veterinarian will help put your plan together and submit it to your state's Johne's coordinator for approval.

Develop a plan
The challenge with Johne's is to test and evaluate a disease where infection usually occurs in young animals, but it may not be detectable or show clinical signs for two to 10 years. That makes developing a plan for eradication less straight-forward than for other diseases. The keys I learned from the certification training include:

  • This is a long-term program and patience is needed.
  • The tests available may be the best we can have for a disease that develops in this manner.
  • All manure is guilty.
  • The key to each farm being assessed is to determine the current prevalence of the organism.

Once certified, your veterinarian can evaluate your farm's risk. If your status is unknown, he may recommend random sample testing. Management strategies and options can be implemented to eliminate sources of transmission. The bonus to Johne's eradication is that it has been shown to decrease other herd problems, especially those in calves, such as scours and failure of passive transfer. In addition, your veterinarian can discuss options for herd testing to become certified, and help you implement biosecurity protocols for all incoming animals.

I've closely reviewed this program and cannot find a down side. You and your certified veterinarian are the leaders of a voluntary program that has been developed by experts. You can stop the transmission of Johne's and other pathogens. Doing so:

  • Will help decrease exposure to other pathogens.
  • Means calves will not be exposed to Johne's and are less likely to return as positive replacement heifers.
  • Means implementing biosecurity measures on incoming animals, which, in turn, ensures healthier animals with more longevity and a better return on investment.

You can't lose if you do it right. Contact your veterinarian to see if he or she is certified. Work together and take the first step in a long process toward Johne's eradication and control. "Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way" - the choice is yours.

Jim Brett is a practicing veterinarian in Montezuma, Ga.