Stay ahead of disease with proper diagnostics

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Two persistently infected BVD calves found in one day. Bad news!

With some detective work, the owners were able to find an infected cow that had been in the same pen as the dams of the calves.

The cow had an interesting history. She had aborted two times, which was a red flag. The farm managers thought it had to do with fertility problems rather than BVD. The cow looked healthy — “healthy as a horse,” says farm owner Mike Larson, of Larson Acres Inc. in Evansville, Wis. She was just a big, square cow, he said. And, she was five years old and obviously had done a good job of milking to have stayed in the herd that long. 

She almost got away with it. She had reached the end of her stay, and was less than a week from being sold for slaughter when she was finally discovered to have BVD. Had she been slaughtered, there would have always been lingering suspicions of a persistently infected BVD cow in the herd, but it would have been impossible to confirm.

Needless to say, the faster an animal is diagnosed, the faster the problem can be addressed. Diagnostics can help you stay ahead of disease.  

Provides peace of mind 

Often, it is difficult to know when to initiate diagnostic procedures. And, persistently infected animals can be hard to identify. 

Prior to finding the infected cow at Larson Acres, “the symptoms in the herd were never severe enough to force us to look for a PI,” says Dave Rhoda, veterinary consultant to Larson Acres.

But after finding the two persistently infected calves and an infected cow, the owners and managers at Larson Acres didn’t need to be convinced any further. The farm began ear-notching all calves and sending the tissue samples to a diagnostic lab. It continued to test and monitor all purchased animals. And, it implemented an aggressive vaccination program for the main respiratory diseases.

“The Larsons are very diligent in making sure that every animal stays on schedule (for its vaccinations),” Rhoda says.   

This provides owner Mike Larson with “peace of mind.” If his herd encounters reproductive problems, he can cross BVD off the list of possible causes, knowing that his animals have been tested and proven negative for the disease.

Stay proactive

Bown Dairy in Fayette, Utah, also monitors its calves, which helps to explain why the death-loss is so low. Calf mortality on the 1,050-cow facility is less than 1 percent.

“I never let it get above half of one percent,” says co-owner Clark Bown.

When an occasional calf does die, the owners will perform a necropsy if they can’t explain the cause. However, it is often difficult to get a veterinarian to come out since the farm is so rural. That is why Clark Bown asked a veterinarian to show him how to post the dead calves himself and obtain the necessary tissue samples to send to a diagnostic laboratory.

Obviously, it was a priority.

Each time a calf or adult animal encounters a health problem, Bown Dairy is diligent about recording the cause, treatment and outcome in its Dairy Comp 305 computer records.

Why is that so important? “I am in a position where I can’t grow any more,” Bown says. The farm has pretty well maxed-out the capacity of its double-20 milking parlor, and Bown doesn’t want to build a new parlor at this time. So, that puts him in a position where he can be more selective about which animals are kept in the herd, since he has so many replacement animals working their way up through the system — thanks, in large part, to the good job he does with his calves. Even with the indigenous animals he raises as herd replacements, he ends up selling about 20 heifers a month.

“I am culling animals right now that are giving us 60 to 65 pounds of milk per day,” he says. But, sooner or later, those animals will be leaving the herd anyway, and it’s best to be proactive and spot them early when they start encountering disease or reproductive problems.

Diagnostics provides that ability.

In particular, Bown points to the importance of monitoring the body temperatures of calves. He and his managers are not shy about pulling out thermometers, especially when calves are seven to 10 days of age.

“My guys are temping calves every single day,” he says.

If a calf’s temperature reaches 102.6 degrees F or beyond, the animal is put on a treatment program, he says. It’s important to catch pneumonia problems early, he adds. 

As the experiences of Larson Acres and Bown Dairy demonstrate, diagnostics are vitally important to helping a farm meet its goals. And, diagnostics don’t always involve veterinarians and diagnostic labs. There are good hands-on physical exams that producers can perform on their own.

More than anything, diagnostics is a mind-set. It means being proactive and doing what you can to stay ahead of disease.


Diagnostics ahead of time can help avoid a wreck

What better way to establish a mind-set toward diagnostics than to offer an insurance policy?

Veterinarian Angela Daniels, of Dalhart, Texas, has found that it helps get clients’ attention and allows them to see that a little money invested up front can pay off in the long-run.

A lot of the dairies in the area have been in expansion mode over the past several years. That has prompted everyone to be more concerned about biosecurity, as many of the dairies are buying heifers and adult cows from other farms.

With an insurance policy in place, the potential buyers of these animals offer to pay for a standard set of diagnostics, including lab work and veterinary labor. The diagnostics focus on three things in particular:

  • Bovine viral diarrhea, or BVD. Every animal is screened to make sure she is not persistently infected.
  • Johne’s disease. Every animal gets a test.
  • Bulk tanks at the farm offering to sell animals. And, if adult cows are involved in a potential purchase, milk from those cows is cultured for contagious mastitis organisms.

In a couple of instances, after the tests have been run, clients have chosen to walk away from a potential purchase because of disease concerns, Daniels says.

The cost of diagnostics in those cases “was a lot less than buying those cattle and having a wreck,” she adds.



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