Dairy farmers make the right animal health decisions

Of more than 1,000 dairy farmers across the country who responded to a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of 86% run a hospital pen. And for good reasons.

“The main reasons given by producers for having a hospital pen are to get sick cows back to health, especially when it comes to cow comfort and welfare,” said Mark van der List, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “These are also the main reasons for my book. Rather than leaving them in a large lactation pen, you can give them special attention in a smaller, less crowded, well-managed pen.

Dr van der List, who has traveled the world to help veterinary programs, said one of his favorite quotes is from an experienced herd manager in Saudi Arabia: “The best place for a dairy cow sick is a well-run hospital pen. . The worst place for a sick dairy cow is a poorly managed hospital pen.

When asked to rank the most important factors in running a hospital compound out of 12 potential answers, these came out on top:

  • Provide a clean environment
  • Record every treatment
  • Monitor frequently
  • Reduce stress

“Everything is important,” stressed Dr. van der List. “Maintaining storage density at 75% with adequate bunk space is another factor that more than 35% of respondents chose as one of their top five. If animals are crowded, they become stressed. Thus, a hospital enclosure must be properly sized to allow for the most beneficial recovery.

When asked to rank the most important factors in running a hospital pen, dairy farmers gave these answers.

When it comes to recording each treatment, nearly 50% of growers chose it as one of their top five.

“The ability to manage milk and meat wait times after antibiotic or other treatment is a key feature in keeping our food safe and free from residue,” said Dr van der List.

He cautioned, however, against putting a cow back in the milking line immediately, even if she is using antibiotic treatment without milk withholding.

“It’s not necessarily a good thing if these cows don’t have to go to the hospital pen. Of course, you can sell the milk. However, the downside is that they are not in a special environment where they can be monitored and allowed to fully recover,” he said.

According to the survey, pneumonia/respiratory tract infections are the main reason for penning cows in hospital.

“I didn’t know that would be the main reason,” admitted Dr. van der List. “Mastitis, fresh cow disease, calving difficulties, all of that is also listed at high percentages. But the answers make sense.

Pneumonia is the cause of 11% of all deaths in adult dairy cows2, so it is a constant threat to the dairy. Veterinary advice, product efficacy and previous experience were the three main factors in deciding which treatment to use for respiratory/pneumonia problems.

“Working with your veterinarian is key, as is choosing a reliable, fast-acting antibiotic with broad bactericidal activity,” Dr. van der List said. He said identifying and treating sick animals early will yield the best results.

“Part of the process is caring for our sick animals, making sure they have the best chance of a quick recovery,” he added. “There’s no better place to do this than in a well-managed hospital pen, and the survey responses clearly showed that dairy farmers are doing the right thing.

Boyd S. Abbott