Beginning next year, Wisconsin dairy farmers who use milk samples to test for Johne's disease may be eligible to have part of that cost reimbursed.

Milk samples can be used only for testing undertaken for diagnostic or herd management purposes — not to officially classify herds for their Johne's-positive or Johne's-negative status.

“We've allowed milk sampling in the past for herd management and screening, but until now, we've only been able to reimburse producers for the costs of collecting blood or fecal samples,” says Elisabeth Patton, who directs the Johne's disease program for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “Using milk samples gives you similar information to blood samples, but is more convenient for many dairy producers.”

The change is part of a comprehensive revision of the department's animal health rules that was recently completed. It applies both to dairy cattle and dairy goat testing.

Under the former rules, only a veterinarian or someone working under direct supervision of a veterinarian was approved to collect the Johne's disease test samples. The new rules say that milk samples may be collected by a Dairy Herd Improvement Association-authorized technician or by a certified veterinary technician. This change allows producers using milk ELISA testing for Johne's disease to request reimbursement.

Vaccination and risk assessment costs may also be partially reimbursed.

Level of reimbursement will depend on how much funding the department receives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and how many producers participate in the program.

To be eligible for reimbursement for expenses incurred next year, producers must have an up-to-date Johne's disease risk assessment and herd management plan (RAMP) completed by Dec. 31 and must apply by Feb. 1, 2009, indicating how many animals they plan to test or vaccinate in 2009.

Why is this important? Johne’s disease is estimated to be present in 68 percent of U.S. dairy operations.

A  recent National Animal Health Monitoring Systems study found that dairy herds with a low Johne’s disease clinical cull rate experience an average loss of $40 per cow while herds with a high Johne’s disease clinical cull rate have an average loss of $227 per cow, with losses traced to reduced milk production, early culling and poor body condition at culling.

It is estimated that one out of 10 cows going through a livestock auction facility has Johne’s disease, and a vast majority of producers selling these animals have no idea that they are infected with Johne’s disease.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection