Protocols Promote Effective Drug Use in Calves and Heifers

Holstein calves in group housing. ( Maureen Hanson )

If healthier calves are a goal for your operation, a written plan could help get you there.

Cornell University Regional Dairy Specialist Kim Morrill conducted an on-farm study with eight northern New York dairy operations from January through August, 2018. Morrill collected and analyzed more than 6,200 on-farm treatment records for 2,618 non-lactating dairy heifers from birth to calving. The data analysis included age and treatment by illness; treatment frequency; farm compliance with established protocols; and standardized drug cost per animal per event, and in total.

The eight herds involved in the study averaged 1,836 mature cows, with a range of 709 to 3,240. Criteria for selecting the herds required that they:

  1. Had written youngstock treatment protocols for respiratory disease and scours;
  2. Had written or electronic youngstock treatment records that included animal ID, reason for treatment, date of treatment, drug use and dosage; and
  3. Allowed the researchers access to protocols and treatment records.

Morrill said one of the most challenging parts of the study was finding farms that had such protocols in place. She said in the process of recruiting herds, she and her team were able to help numerous producers develop treatment protocols, and facilitate conversations between the producers and their veterinarians to fully develop, write and implement proper treatment protocols, and use treatment records.

“Oftentimes we do not think about the treatment protocol or the cost of treatment and the long-term impact that treatments due to illness may have on a dairy operation,” said Morrill. “Proper treatment protocols ensure that cattle are treated in a manner that is legal; minimizes the risk of violative drug residues; and fits the illness. Not following proper protocols can lead to an increase in residue risk, cost, treatment time and overuse of antibiotics.”

The farms in the study were highly compliant with disease treatment protocols, with compliance rates ranging from 73.58 to 100%. Other results from evaluating their treatment records showed:

  • Not surprisingly, scours and pneumonia were the two conditions contributing to the most treatment events.
  • Scours cases peaked between 8 and 31 days of age, while pneumonia was treated most frequently between 61 and 120 days of age.
  • Only 14 of the 2,618 heifers were treated after 365 days of age – 9 for pneumonia, and 5 for “other” (bloat, joint ill, pinkeye, ear infection or arthritis).
  • Animals were treated for an average of 2.19 health events per heifer over the 8-month period.
  • Average treatment cost per health event (medication only) was $8.08 per head.

The study was funded by the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program. A full report can be accessed here.