The opportunity to travel to meetings in addition to working with new clients in other areas, both in the USA and internationally, has given me the unique opportunity to see many different types of animal health protocols being used.  When I see this variability, I have to ask if we actually know what is the ideal treatment.  Additionally, are there some “preventative” measures which actually have no benefit or worse, are detrimental to the cow?

If we questioned a group of veterinarians or herd managers as to the best treatment for milk fever, all would include intravenous calcium to treat a down cow with milk fever. But if we look at protocols for ketosis, metritis or retained placenta, we see significant variability.  Do we really have the data and information to make the correct treatment decision?  Do we actually need to treat at all?  And more importantly, do we have protocols in place to ensure we have made the correct diagnosis?

I also see a lot of fresh cow protocols.  Many of these blanket procedures, such as drenching every fresh cow, are based on first principles versus sound science.  Do we really need to drench every fresh cow to prevent disease? Or, is there an underlying issue with transition cow management or nutrition that can prevent the disease issues we are seeing?

Using first principles to determine the ideal treatment and management protocols for our operations may be a reasonable approach where we do not have on-farm data or research to support the protocol.  But we must realize that there are a lot of published research trials and most modern dairy farms also have a lot of on-farm data that can be evaluated.

First, do no harm

I think it is important for all managers and veterinarians to take a step back and evaluate long-term protocols that have been in place on the dairy.  Do these protocols still make sense?  Is there new data or research that would change the recommendation?  Making a change to an existing protocol doesn’t necessarily mean we were wrong--change might simply be warranted based on new information. 

Do not take the fact that some things we do are not only neutral in performance response but may be detrimental to the cow.  We might be doing something we think helps the cow and it actually is a bad thing to do.

Transition management strategies and time budgets must also be kept in mind for all of the things we do to our cows in a given day or week.  We know cows must go to the parlor two to four times a day for milking and then get sorted or locked for various management procedures such as vaccinations, hormone injections and so on. But again, is there a net benefit to the procedure? 

Fresh cow monitoring protocols appear to be one area to evaluate.  Is locking up all fresh cows for routine monitoring of benefit or detriment to the cow?

Vaccine protocols are another area for fine-tuning.  With the existence of many different multivalent (many vaccines in one) vaccines, I find our cows have become “pin cushions” on some farms.  If we look to some other countries were vaccine availability is limited, especially the options for multivalent vaccines, it can help us question what vaccines do we really need? 

Challenge yourself to re-evaluate what you do on a daily basis to our cows and be open to change.  


Note: This story appears in the May 2017 issue of Dairy Herd Management.