You may have heard already that in January 2014 the USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) will launch its sixth national dairy study. As with all NAHMS national studies, objectives for the Dairy 2014 study were identified through focus groups and a needs  assessment survey completed by various stakeholders in the U.S. dairy industry, to ensure that the study will focus on issues that dairy farmers and other stakeholders consider a priority. The objectives for the 2014 study are:

• Describe trends in dairy cattle health and management practices.

• Describe management practices and production measures related to animal welfare.

• Estimate the prevalence of lameness, and evaluate housing and management factors associated with lameness.

• Evaluate heifer-calf health from birth to weaning.

• Describe antibiotic use and residue prevention methods used to ensure milk and meat quality.

• Estimate the prevalence and antimicrobial resistance patterns of select foodborne pathogens.

One objective of Dairy 2014 is to evaluate heifer-calf health from birth to weaning. To address this objective, NAHMS convened a group of international experts in calf health to help design the calf component of the study. In addition to collecting disease incidence data, the group also wanted to determine the impact of other factors on the health of calves, including dystocia, colostrum management, housing, etc.

Approximately 300 dairy operations participating in the 2014 study will be requested to volunteer to take part in the calf component. Participation in this component requires that each operation enrolls two heifer calves at birth per month for 12 months (24 calves) and monitor them through weaning. During this time, the calves will have serum IgG concentrations measured, BVD testing using ear notch samples, and feces collected to evaluate for Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Blastocystis and Microsporidia. In addition to the samples collected for testing, data will be collected on calving information, colostrum administration, housing, vaccines, and disease episodes and treatments. Using calf tapes, the weight and height of each calf will be measured every two weeks during the preweaning period.

Participation may be of considerable interest to these dairies’ veterinarians, but because of NAHMS privacy policies, we are unable to identify the private veterinarians who serve these operations. To get the word out, we are sending a letter to participating producers — to share with their veterinarians — explaining the calf component of the study and how their veterinarians might help.

Veterinarians invited to participate in NAHMS Dairy 2014 studyNAHMS usually relies almost exclusively on federal and state veterinarians and animal-health technicians to collect data and samples for its studies, but the longitudinal nature of this study raises concerns about their ability to provide all the necessary field resources.
Participating in the calf component of the study might help intensify the focus of producers on the importance of raising healthy calves. We know that many private veterinarians would like to be more involved in calfraising practices, and participating in this part of the study might help “open that door.”

The technical assistance that may be needed from the dairies’ private veterinarians includes taking blood samples from calves at 1 to 5 days of age, testing ear notch samples for BVD and helping complete a diary card on each calf. Private veterinarians that already perform some of these procedures for their clients will need to use NAHMS sampling and testing protocols to ensure standardization and quality control. For disease incidence data, we will have criteria to diagnose the common diseases, but sometimes dairies have their own system. We ask that private veterinarians attempt to use the criteria provided, without changing their client’s current protocols.

Unfortunately, NAHMS can’t compensate private veterinarians, but we anticipate that participation will promote veterinarian involvement in the health and welfare of their clients’ calves. If, however, a veterinarian is not able to assist his or her client in the study and federal or state resources are unavailable, we will suggest that you contact university or extension dairy agents within your state. NAHMS will also provide a list of professionals that producers can contact if their private veterinarian is unable to assist them.

If you have questions regarding participation in the study, please email Jason.e.lombard@aphis.usda.gov.