To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Not every cow will require treatment in her lifetime.
( Farm Journal )

Many times, as veterinarians and cow health caregivers, we strive to do what we think is in the best interest of the calf or cow we are treating. On some farms a treatment is administered at the slightest sign of a possible illness. Often antibiotics are included in this treatment. We are also focused on the prevention of disease through good management and vaccination programs. However, all too often we realize vaccination protocols have turned our cows into pin cushions. Are all of these vaccines warranted?


With the implementation of the veterinary feed directive (VFD) and increased consumer pressure to reduce antimicrobial use, we have been challenged in a good way to review the common practices of disease treatment and prevention. The routine use of antimicrobials in milk replacers and calf starter feeds are one example where we have effectively reduced antimicrobial use with little to no negative consequences. Continued research and the early adoption of selective dry cow therapy is another area of significant promise in not only the reduction of antimicrobial use but also the reduction in labor and drug costs for a dairy operation.

As we continue to gain information through research projects and implementation of updated treatment protocols, there has been a greater realization that perhaps some of the common treatments we administer might actually be neutral or even detrimental. Think of the evolution of certain treatments, such as uterine infusions, which were very commonplace but are rarely performed today. We have used research trials to measure the important outcomes and edit our treatment protocols based on this information.


There has also been a major shift to not try and save every cow or calf. Early identification and removal of an animal that has a very poor prognosis is a win-win. It is improved welfare for the animal in question and is generally the most economical decision if the animal can be slaughtered versus removal after death. Extended treatments only create increased residue risks and more labor for the farm staff. This is an excellent place to use your herd veterinarian for second opinion examinations. Do we have a case worth continuing treatment? Is the diagnosis and treatment correct? When is it time for either humane slaughter or euthanasia?

The regulations around pharmaceutical use, especially antibiotics, will continue to evolve and become more stringent. Again, these challenges are not all bad as they cause us to think out of the box, improve management and not always reach for a syringe to “cure” a problem. Organizations such as the American Association of Bovine Practitioners have been active on the legislative side to preserve the use of necessary antibiotics for livestock use while we concurrently work toward more prudent use.

As with all things, it is a balance. This balance can only be created with an openness to change and by putting available data to use, not subjective evaluation, for our prevention and treatment programs.


Mark Thomas is a veterinarian and partner in Countryside Veterinary Clinic LLP and Dairy Health and Management Services LLC in Rowville, N.Y.

Note: This article appears in the July issue of Dairy Herd Management

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