"TO treat or NOT to treat"... that is the question and a decision that one or more employees makes on your dairy every day.   Giving your employees the training and tools to make this decision correctly is crucial not only to the health of the individual cow but also to the profitability of your dairy business.  As you know, I'm all about systems.  They guide employees to make correct decisions.  But for systems to work, employees must thoroughly understand them, be properly trained in them and then be given feedback about how they are doing.  You can't develop the system if you don't understand the principles.  This month let's talk about the principles behind the decision "should I treat this cow or not?" 

Step 1: Identify the sick animal 

Herdsman may be presented with mastitis cows from milkers or they are required to look for animals that are demonstrating abnormal behavior, walk, appearance or attitude.   The important question is: do they take the initiative to separate them for further evaluation?

Step 2: Gather status information

Your herdsman must select from one of three options with every sick animal: 1.) treat, 2.) observe or 3.)  cull.  You'll need to provide him with your criteria of whether to consider treating or to cull.  This should be based upon your calculation of "break even milk" and other criteria such as pregnancy status, days in milk and physical traits.  You must have this individual cow data accessible to your herdsman so he can review it and apply your criteria to treat or cull.

Step 3: Do a complete physical examination

A physical examination is nothing more than a systematic, routine analysis of all major organ systems of an animal.  Its goal is to develop a diagnosis.  You need a thermometer, stethoscope, palpation sleeve, ketosis strips and a preprinted form to enter information.  The physical examination will help you piece together the "Sick Animal Puzzle" so that you can apply the appropriate treatment protocol.  Even for diseases as simple as mastitis, the physical exam characterizes the severity of the problem and may identify other health conditions that impact the decision to treat or cull.   

How to perform a physical examination.

Once a diagnosis has been made and the determination is to treat, it is a simple step to apply treatment protocols developed by you and your veterinarian.  Protocols that require use of antibiotics have residue potential both in meat and milk.  Every treatment protocol must include a milk and meat withdrawal time.  Employees need to be trained to implement your system to insure these withdrawal times are met and that anticipated response to therapy occurs.