Small Changes Tackle Big Problems

US - For Steve Brock, a dairy farmer in Menominee County, steadily reducing the number of cases of Johne’s disease in his herd is just as important as totally eliminating the problem. He’s been able to successfully achieve this goal by implementing a number of small changes to his management routine over the past five years thanks in part to participating in a research study with Michigan State University (MSU) researchers.
calendar icon 15 June 2011
clock icon 3 minute read

Johne’s disease, a contagious and untreatable disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium paratuberculosis, or MAP, typically occurs in calves, but animals generally don’t express clinical signs of the disease until later in life.

When Mr Brock joined the MSU-led Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project in 2005, a whole-herd test showed that the herd of 900 animals, 500 of which were milking cows, had a 14 per cent prevalence of the disease. That percentage has since been reduced to less than 10 per cent.

Once the test results came in on the Brock herd, researchers conducted an on-farm evaluation of management practices. They traced the primary risk for transmission of Johne’s disease to the calving area. Though 70 per cent of the cows calved in a 5-acre pasture area during the spring, summer and fall, during the winter months, cows calved in a group maternity area inside the barn. The close quarters provided ample opportunity for the disease to spread. Additionally, standing surface water that had accumulated in the pasture area also harbored the organism responsible for causing Johne’s.

“Nobody wants to talk about Johne’s disease, but we knew our herd had it,” Mr Brock said. “We weren’t going to bury our heads in the sand and hope it would go away. We are trying to be proactive: find out what causes it and how to control it and fix the problem.”

Today, individual maternity pens are used during the winter and animals that have tested positive for Johne’s give birth in an area separate from the other cows. Newborns only receive colostrum from cows that have tested negative for Johne’s, and a colostrum replacement is used when supplies run low. Waste feed is only fed to the oldest heifers and access to standing surface waters in the pasture area is being controlled by fencing and drainage.

Although the research study is complete, Mr Brock plans to continue testing and monitoring the management program they put in place to control Johne’s disease in their herd. He noted that the overall health of the herd and production of the herd has improved since implementing management changes to control Johne’s disease.

For example, by more aggressively managing the environment for newborn calves, there has been a decrease in calfhood disease, most notably scours. This highlights how paying close attention to management practices, such as having clean maternity areas, can reduce the incidence of correlated infectious diseases.

“We can manage this problem,” Mr Brock added. “Every year, we see a one percent decrease in the number of positive-testing animals. It’s encouraging because this means the management changes are working. We are making changes that not only eliminate this disease from our herd, but also make our herd healthier and our cattle more productive.”

Find additional information on the Michigan Johne’s Disease Control Demonstration Project at

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