Managing a dairy business in this economy is tough. When margins are tight, the cost of a treatment can seem more important than how well it works. However, the true cost of the treatment can go well beyond the initial purchase price.
“The product that costs less off the shelf could come with hidden costs and risks, especially if the treatment is being used in an extra-label fashion,” says Mark Kirkpatrick, DVM, Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis. “When deciding on which treatment to use, you need to evaluate potential hidden costs that could cost you more in the long run.”
Consider these dairy wellness tips to avoid the hidden treatment costs that aren’t written on the bottle.
- Understand the disease: Understanding the disease itself will help you identify the treatment that will give you the greatest chance of curing it. “Metritis is a perfect example,” Dr. Kirkpatrick says. “It typically begins when an Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection develops in the uterus and opens the door for subsequent infections from other bacteria. An antibiotic such as penicillin doesn’t have the range to attack an E. coli infection, and going off-label won’t help. If you aren’t using an effective treatment, the total cost of the administered product could be higher and you could be spending more in additional treatments when the first one doesn’t work.”
- Evaluate treatment protocols: Treatment protocols are designed to consider many variables. Protocols can vary depending on the disease and products available to treat it. Written protocols should include the route of administration, dosage and duration to cure the disease as defined by your veterinarian. Training your employees to record and strictly comply with these protocols will minimize the chance of disease relapse or failure. When you adhere to your protocols, you can evaluate the true cost of a treatment rather than just the cost of a bottle.
- Avoid violative drug residues: “Treatments that require milk withdrawals aren’t necessarily dairy-friendly, and the withdrawal time must be followed to avoid violative drug residues,” Dr. Kirkpatrick says. If your raw milk tests positive for an antibiotic, you could incur expenses to cover the cost of disposing the tanker plus fines from food safety officials. On-label treatments that come with zero milk discard remove the potentially hefty hidden cost of a residue violation.
- Minimize pen moves: Pen moves can be costly because they create social stress and expose cows to additional diseases. When a treatment requires a milk withdrawal, the cow must be moved to a pen with other treated cattle. Anytime a cow is moved — even back to her original pen — she needs to familiarize herself with her surroundings and establish her social rank. Cows under social stress spend less time eating and lying down, and they produce less milk. Pen moves also can be costly if a cow contracts another illness. When a cow is already ill, her immune system is compromised and the risk of contracting another disease is high. A new disease could require additional treatments, different medicines and more money.
“Avoiding hidden costs can be easy when you use products with effective, on-label protocols that are also dairy-friendly,” Dr. Kirkpatrick adds. “Anything else can end up costing you more money.”
Your veterinarian is a valuable resource for determining which treatments are not only effective but also most cost-effective and best suited for your operation. Ask him or her to help you develop written treatment protocols, train employees to follow the protocol and use recorded treatment records to evaluate how you can avoid unnecessary risks and costs on your dairy.