Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Use data to monitor fresh cow diseases

Conrad Spangler Published on 12 April 2010

Once is an occurrence, twice could be a fluke, three times is a trend. This was my thought as I headed to a 2,000-cow Jersey dairy for the third time in a week to perform surgery on a cow with a left-displaced abomasum (LDA).

I had just recently acquired this herd as a client and had not had the opportunity to acquaint myself with the details of the operation, but this problem was quickly frustrating me.



During my drive, my resolve to get to the bottom of this issue strengthened for the following reasons:

1. LDAs are estimated to be the most costly disease on a per-case basis, with a cost of $494.

2. LDAs can often just be the tip of the iceberg, that is, a clinical syndrome resulting from an underlying problem such as hypocalcemia, ketosis or poor forage quality.

3. As a new graduate in a practice that cuts an average two to three LDAs per month, I’m not the fastest surgeon so this call represents a significant divergence from my daily plan.

Upon completion of the surgery, I discussed the transition program with the herd manager, during which I learned the close-up pen was 50 percent overcrowded due to intense calving pressure and many more cows had been treated recently for milk fever. After cleaning up, I grabbed a Dairy Comp 305 backup by typing “save\c” into the command line and headed off to start the real work. The thrills and satisfaction I derive from my occupation come not from curing the cow that may be the tip of the iceberg, but from attacking the larger problem looming underneath the surface by implementing and monitoring solutions that operate within the constraints of the dairy.


Monitoring fresh cow diseases
Working with multiple dairies is another enjoyable aspect of veterinary practice for me. From my observations, there seems to be a spectrum of increasing scrutiny and collaboration with respect to how fresh cow diseases are monitored both for prevention and outcome assessment. I see this spectrum as follows:

1. Intermittent identification and intervention with no recording of data.

2. Discussing fresh cow health with herd veterinarian during regular herd visits.

3. Daily identification and intervention with no recording of data.

4. Weekly urine pH tests of close-up cows to assess DCAD in close-up diet.

5. Daily identification and intervention with recording of data in a notebook.


6. Daily identification and intervention with recording of data in an on-farm computer-based system, which can be accessed by multiple stakeholders.

7. Monthly analysis and review of fresh cow disease records with owner, manager, nutritionist and veterinarian.

What steps is your operation utilizing to prevent and monitor fresh cow diseases? Our client is currently utilizing methods 2, 4, 6 and 7, to effectively manage through this problem. Our clinic employs a licensed veterinary technician, whose responsibilities include weekly monitoring of urine pH and shaker box results on several farms. Additionally, she is responsible for compiling the Dairy Comp 305 data into a monthly report for review with our clients’ associated stakeholders.

Dairy Comp command
One method for monitoring diseases, which allows for increased collaboration and problem solving, involves data entry into an on-farm data system, such as Dairy Comp 305. In order to base management decisions on the data entered into the data system, management personnel and associated stakeholders must have an understanding of the frequency of observation for a disease, testing method used to diagnose a disease and criteria for entering the disease into the data system. For example, some dairies use urine ketone strips daily on fresh cows and enter any positive cows into the on-farm data system. These dairies are likely to have a higher apparent incidence of ketosis than dairies which either do not test for ketosis or do not enter the event into the computer system. Management personnel may then use this data to determine if disease incidence is changing, whether a change in incidence warrants intervention and then to monitor if the intervention leads to less disease.

In an effort to formulate a metric by which fresh cow diseases could be calculated and management decisions can be based, Dairy Comp 305 has developed a command that has less lag, less momentum (not affected by past performance), defines a specific time frame and counts a disease as the first occurrence, not as every day of treatment for the disease. This command for counting fresh cow disease was based on a paper from the Journal of Dairy Science, which proposed a standardized method for calculating disease incidence of economically important dairy diseases. The Dairy Comp 305 command used to accurately determine fresh cow disease incidence only includes cows that have completed the time period at risk for fresh cow diseases (30 days, including both live and dead animals), and only includes the first recorded event for a certain disease. This command will allow management personnel to monitor how the fresh cows and transition period have been performing monthly over the last year, track changes in fresh cow disease risk and will not have momentum built into the calculation. The command that can be used to monitor the level of fresh cow diseases is:


This same report can also be run by typing “GUIDE” into the command line, then clicking the “Fresh Cows” tab and double-clicking on the sentence, “Do the patterns of fresh cow disease indicate a recent problem?” This will create a histogram of the fresh cow diseases, and information can be viewed in table form by selecting the “Report” tab at the bottom of the page. This report can be customized through clicking on the “Options” button in the upper right corner of the screen, through which one can select certain lactations, a specific time frame or decide which events to include.

For herds of less than 500 cows, it is more useful to monitor the changing count of events than percentages of the various disease incidences, since fewer cows freshen per month and thus one cow with the disease can represent a large and possibly misleading percentage. For larger herds, it is useful to export the fresh cow disease report to Excel to calculate incidence percentages rather than counts. One must keep in mind that cows freshened in the most recent month have not been at risk the entire 30 days, so these numbers are subject to change.

Through learning how my client tested, diagnosed and recorded fresh cow diseases, along with further diagnostic testing, it was determined with the confidence of data that there was in fact an increase in the number of milk fever and LDA cases. This understanding also provided confidence that system changes could be effectively monitored through the use of this Dairy Comp 305 command. Using the data gathered through one-on-one discussions, weekly urine pH evaluations, daily fresh cow checks and monthly evaluation of accurate data, has allowed for increased collaboration amongst this dairy’s management, nutritionist and veterinarian to identify opportunities and threats to the health and productivity of the cows and business. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request by sending an email to .

Conrad Spangler