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Eyeballing health treatment? Take a second look

Richard Wallace Published on 11 March 2014

How often do you or your dairy employees stop treatment because a cow looks better? If your herd manager or person responsible for administering treatment doesn’t show up to work, do your health records provide enough information for someone to pick up where they left off?

Following treatment protocols and recording health events seem like basic tasks; however, many dairies fall short on both, putting themselves at risk for disease relapse and drug residues or worse.

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Good records are hard to find
Three veterinary student interns, supported by Zoetis, Inc., recently conducted a study that observed health management practices on 105 U.S. dairies. These dairies are considered the best of the best when it comes to diagnosis, treatment and record-keeping practices for mastitis, metritis, pneumonia and lameness.

Using a tool developed by John Wenz, DVM, MS, at Washington State University, the interns assessed the appropriateness of therapies and completeness of treatment records. The results were surprising.

• Fewer than 50 percent of these “well-managed” dairies had written treatment protocols.

• Of those, only half were actually applying the treatments as written.

• Among the dairies that recorded disease events by computer, treatments for mastitis, metritis and pneumonia were only recorded about 50 percent of the time.

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• Only 52 percent of the operations with dairy monitoring software used treatment protocols at all.

Not one dairy had complete treatment records – described in the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance as the following:

• Animal identification

• Date or dates of treatment

• Drug and dosage given

• Route of administration

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• Meat and milk withdrawal time

Understanding the disease process
In order to develop effective treatment protocols, you first need to understand the disease process and how treatments attack the disease. Take metritis, which involves a bacterial species progression that makes it difficult to treat.

Typically, a case of metritis begins when an Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection develops in the uterus and paves the way for infections from other bacteria. How do you treat it? Penicillin is not the answer. It doesn’t have the range to attack an E. coli infection. Going off-label won’t help either.

For treatment to be successful, the level of therapy needs to stay above the minimum inhibitory concentration, which is the amount of medicine needed to kill bacterial populations and prevent regrowth. After the initial dose, the concentration of medicine gradually declines, requiring additional doses specified in the protocol.

When diseases multiply
The potential for diseases to multiply is why it’s so important to see the treatment through. Not completing treatment protocols for an initial infection or disease incident can open the door to more problems – more trips to the hospital pen and more chances for new disease exposure.

Treatments that require milk or meat withdrawal also mean cows must go to pens with other treated cattle. Without sound protocols, pens can be ripe for further disease exposure rather than a place for recuperating.

In hospital pens, dairy cows are 11 times more likely to contract salmonella than in regular pens. Cows also can contract Mycoplasma bovis . In one study, 70 percent of cows entering the hospital pen contracted M. bovis clinical mastitis within 12 days.

Not to mention, every time a cow is moved to a different pen, she needs to familiarize herself with her new surroundings and establish her social rank in the new group. Studies have shown that it can take two to five days for a group of cows to become socially stable after any pen move.

Even when moving back to the original pen, social stress causes cows to spend less time eating and lying down, which hurts milk production. And when milk production declines, hidden treatment costs start adding up.

Why full treatment matters
And then there’s the concern for relapse. A cow’s immune system is vulnerable to additional bacteria or the development of a chronic infection that is more difficult to treat.

A cow may have an initial positive response to a treatment, but if the full treatment course isn’t followed, the level of therapy will drop below the amount needed to effectively kill bacteria, opening the door for re-growth. Cows that relapse represent a bigger threat to dairy wellness through propagation of the infection and reduced performance.

That’s why the first time a cow contracts a disease is the best chance to help her recover – by providing a full course of therapy. Cutting short treatment protocols might seem like a way to save money and time, but the true cost of a treatment involves more than the cost of the medication.

If the initial treatment fails because of noncompliance, you will need to invest in re-treatment, which is just the start of additional costs.

Use a system that works
Dairies have a responsibility to record disease events and treatment protocols. However, health records often are incomplete and lack accuracy and consistency. According to research from Washington State University, 95 percent of the dairies studied recorded the cow’s identification number, treatment data and drug used.

However, only 29 percent recorded the disease treated, 9 percent reported the dose of drug given, and only 19 percent recorded the withdrawal time. Common dairy management software also can track milk and meat withdrawal times of treated cows, but fewer than half of the dairies studied made use of these features.

Although dairies have been hearing for decades about the importance of good health records, most dairies still lack the accurate and consistent records needed to avoid drug residues and to evaluate the effectiveness of health management.

Incomplete records of extra-label drug use is the most commonly cited reason for violative residue at slaughter. Though there have been improvements, dairy cattle still are 300 times more likely to be flagged for a carcass residue than their feedlot counterparts.

Maintaining good records is an important step in avoiding drug residues. And it’s the only way to properly evaluate the outcomes of health management decisions. Poor record-keeping also makes it more difficult for dairies to consult with their veterinarians regarding sound treatment practices and disease epidemiology.

Three simple rules
There is a risk of residues in milk and meat any time you use an antibiotic to treat a cow. Antibiotic use is necessary to return the cow to health, and risk should be minimal with proper on-label use and veterinarian-client-patient relationship guidance.

Prescriptions and protocols include withdrawal times to help protect meat and milk. Straying from protocols increases the risk of violative drug residues.

Here are three simple rules for ensuring good health records and sound protocols:

• Record all disease episodes, regardless of severity or therapy.

• Use a single, specific event for each disease. Differentiate clinical from subclinical/screening.

• Record all event remarks with the same information and order, using consistent abbreviations.

The best way to enforce these three simple rules and prevent residue violations is by involving your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is the most knowledgeable when it comes to animal health expertise, research, product education and treatment protocols. And even veterinarians use more than just their eyes to assess animal health. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Richard Wallace

Richard Wallace
Dairy Technical Services
Zoetis


Residue avoidance best practices in action

Veterinarians are producers’ first line of defense for establishing and enforcing proper health treatment protocols that protect them from residue violations. It’s a role they take seriously as well as personally.

“As a veterinarian, I’m just as responsible as the producer is for ensuring that the medications and treatment protocols I prescribe are used judiciously,” says Tom Strause, DVM, Stateline Veterinary Service in Darien, Wisconsin. “If the FDA were to notify one of my clients of a residue violation, I would feel like I let them down.”

This level of concern and responsibility inspired Strause to take an active leadership role within his practice to help his clients develop more concrete treatment and record-keeping protocols. In fact, he recently was recognized as the Quality Veterinarian of the Year at the 46th Annual Conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners for his commitment to helping clients practice responsible antibiotic use.

Strause sees a great opportunity for veterinarians and producers to work together to take a more proactive approach to prevent drug residues. This approach includes:

• Establishing a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship

• Setting animal health treatment protocols

• Maintaining effective on-farm records

When Strause works with producers, he wants to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to:

• Drugs being used for treatment

• Proper administration

• Withholding times for milk and meat

• Health records

While conducting herd checks, he takes the opportunity to discuss protocols with clients. With their permission, he reviews recent cull lists and references treatment records to see what medications these cattle were last treated with. While this may seem counterintuitive, Strause believes it’s an important checkpoint for ensuring proper withdrawal times and treatment effectiveness.

“I cannot stress the importance of record-keeping. Get those notes down on paper or in the computer and out of your head,” he says.

Strause advises his clients to record every health event as it happens. At the very least, he recommends recording the animal’s identification number, symptoms or disease being treated and treatment protocol, including drug used and milk or meat withdrawal times.

He observes that visible cow-side treatment indicators are an overlooked aspect of record-keeping communicating treatment status with other employees.

When animals are treated, it’s a good idea to use visible markers, such as red leg bands, chalk or paint, to indicate treatment. This alerts other dairy employees to the health status of animals so they know not to milk or cull treated cows.

Strause explains that more violations will attract more scrutiny and increase pressure on the FDA to restrict certain animal health drugs from the market. This could limit or even eliminate the number of drugs available to effectively treat diseases.

“Producers and veterinarians need to do everything possible to ensure that safe and quality milk and meat products are entering the food supply, not only to protect our businesses and our industry, but animal health,” says Strause. “The importance of record-keeping will help ensure the quality and safety of the food products that we produce and will establish accurate protocols and help eliminate drug residues.”

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