A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called “10 Human Public Health Achievements” discussed factors that have improved public health worldwide. These included reduction in child mortality, vaccine-preventable diseases, access to safe water and sanitation and more.

Bovine Veterinarian, a sister publication of Dairy Herd Management, asked 10 respected beef and dairy veterinarians and researchers what they consider as 10 cattle health achievements in the last decade or two.

Though not listed in a particular order, the one that rose to the top of almost everyone asked was the advent of diagnostic tests for persistent bovine viral diarrhea infection. “BVD-PI diagnostics pioneered by Dr. Bruce Brodersen at the University of Nebraska is very worthy of inclusion,” says Dee Griffin, of the Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center in Clay Center, Neb.

“The immunohistochemistry test Brodersen developed totally changed the diagnostic landscape for an economically devastating disease,” adds Griffin. “Today, with a very high degree of certainty, an individual bovine can be tested and kept out of a herd. This was a ground-breaking leap forward in diagnostics.”

Another achievement has been the advancement in cattle welfare. Cattle-welfare expert Jan Shearer, veterinarian at Iowa State University, listed several welfare programs that have been established in the last decade.“I feel these programs have had a significant impact on increasing awareness and in changing attitudes and practices for the better in livestock production relative to welfare,” he says.

10 cattle health achievements

1. Diagnostic and other tests. The development of the ear notch antigen capture ELISA or immunohistochemistry for the detection of persistent BVDV infection rises to the top of the list. Others include: Real-time PCR to rapidly diagnose diseases; “cow-side” diagnostics such as ultrasound, hematology, serum biochemistry; cELISA test for bovine anaplasmosis that has improved diagnostic sensitivity from 20% (CF test) to over 90%; and increased availability of molecular diagnostic tools for disease diagnosis. It was also noted that the use of pharmacokinetics to more accurately dose antimicrobials and other drugs has been an advancement.

2. Immunology advances/disease mitigation. Understanding cell-mediated immunity and the advent of mucosal immunization, especially in young calves. Programs such as the Sandhills Calving System utilizing age segregation to eliminate calf scours in beef cattle has made a big economic and disease incidence difference. 

3. Reproductive programs and technology. Improved estrus synchronization programs in beef and dairy cattle such as the OvSynch and other protocols. In addition, the commercial availability of bovine cloning, embryo transfer and embryo sexing services as well as sexed semen and artificial insemination with frozen semen have advanced reproductive programs. Breeding soundness exams of bulls have improved and the use of EPDs for birthweight/calving ease has increased.

4. New vaccines/drugs. SRP vaccine for Salmonella, and E. coli 0157- H 7 vaccine are two of the newest vaccines that have been introduced, and the development of intranasal vaccines offers a different delivery option. For external and internal parasites, anthelmintics capable of killing inhibited Ostertagia and ectoparasiticides for scabies/mange mites have improved. Longer duration/single shot antimicrobials for BRD that reduce trips through the chute have changed treatment protocols. Antimicrobials in dairy with zero withdrawal are helping to reduce residues.

5. Mastitis products/research. Teat sealants and improved teat dip technology, genetic markers for resistance to infection and fast diagnostic assays are some advances in this area. High-tech milking systems that integrate sensors and other measurements are being used to assist in identification of abnormal milk and mastitis.

6. Nutrition advances. Anionic salt rations for close-up/transition dairy cows has markedly decreased the incidence of hypocalcemia, which leads to the multitude of other fresh cow metabolic problems (ketosis, LDAs).

The use of by-products of the ethanol and corn sweetener industry has dramatically changed and improved cattle feeding and the demographics associated with feeding. Ionophores in cattle diets have increased feed efficiency and reduced coccidiosis.

7. Telemedicine. This has allowed consultants and specialists to keep in touch with clients in an interactive manner. Veterinarians are using digital cameras, videos and other methods to consult with clients, diagnostic labs and each other.

8. Welfare initiatives. Some of the programs that have been developed in the last decade include The National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative; Farmers Assuring Responsible Management Program (FARM); Feedyard Assessment Program; Cow-Calf Assessment Program, NCBA Cattle Welfare Guidelines.

Heat abatement procedures on dairies and feedlot operations and advances in dairy cow comfort through better facility design and improved management have become widespread. Low-stress cattle handling and beef cattle facilities design (i.e. Temple Grandin initiatives) are becoming commonplace.

Earlier identification of animals needing euthanasia, and improved methods of humane euthanasia of cattle has also made improvements in cattle welfare.

9. Genetics. Sequencing the bovine genome and the commercial availability of genomics testing is changing reproductive programs, as well as allowing for disease risk analysis.

10. Foreign and endemic animal disease surveillance. No foreign animal disease outbreaks have been reported in cattle in the United States in the past 10 years, and there is a near eradication of Brucella abortus and Mycobacterium bovis. 

Contributors to this article include:
Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVCP
Jim Brett, DVM
Chris Chase, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVM
Hans Coetzee, BVSc, Cert CHP, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVCP
Greg Goodell, DVM
Dee Griffin, DVM, MS
Bob Larson, DVM, PhD, Dipl., ACT, Dipl. ACVPM, Dipl. ACAN
Jessica Laurin, DVM
Kelly Lechtenberg, DVM, PhD
Jan Shearer, DVM, MS