meta You CAN Strengthen Your Dairy Herd Immune Status – Healthier Herd. More Milk. Healthier Herd. More Profit. :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

You CAN Strengthen Your Dairy Herd Immune Status – Healthier Herd. More Milk. Healthier Herd. More Profit.

The Health of Your Dairy Herd Is Always Under Attack

Over the past 6 decades, advances in disease control and dairy productivity have required that professionals repeatedly shift their focus to a broader perspective and expand the array of methodologies used. Thus, we have made the leap from the sick individual, to disease control and eradication in groups, to the health and productivity of cows on a dairy, to the health and productivity of a nation’s herd.

The Immune System is Sneaky and Dangerous

Immune Response is a powerful force which impacts the entire dairy herd both positively and negatively every single day. While diseased cows are visible, the immunity challenged cow or calf may sneak under the radar of casual observation. You need to identify these four situations before they take down your herd and your profitability.

  1. Clinical diseases. mastitis, lameness, milk fever, retained placenta, or displaced abomasum.
  2. Subclinical diseases. These diseases require screening tests, fecal culture or ELISA for diagnosis – ketosis, mastitis, acidosis, and laminitis.
  3. Sporadic or endemic infectious diseases.
  4. Diseases that have serious consequences for public health. 


Stop reading. 

If your answer was “No!”, do something right now to change your answer to “Yes!”  

If your herd is not meeting your health and production goals, you have an immunity problem.

As with any proactive plan, the first step is always accurate identification.

However, we let ourselves off far too easily!

FIVE Signs That Your Herd Immunity is Under Attack

If an animal ticks 3 of the following 5 boxes. You must act.

Here are five signs:

  • Increased culling. How much has it risen?What is your new target? Assign dates.
  • Reduced milk or protein yield. Identify the amounts.Benchmark the next step.
  • Increased adult cow mortality. How did this happen?What causes are identified? 
  • Reduced reproductive efficiency. Is complacency taking over?
  • Reduced longevity

So, if one cow ticks three of the five boxes, culling is the next step.  There can be no “heart” ticks. Emotional decision making can have a disastrous effect on the herd.

Do you have a sick animal that is not responding to treatment?

This is a threat to the health of other animals.  Do something about it right NOW.  

You Must Accept That Genetics is the Front Line for Building Up Immune Response

“When all else is equal, the question that differentiates between two cows on your dairy is, ‘how strong is their immune system?  How able are they going to be to respond to that challenge?  Because no matter how well managed a dairy is, every cow is going to encounter both bacterial and viral pathogens almost every day on a dairy farm,” says Dr. Steven Larmer, Senior Manager, Genomics Program (Immunity+). The immune response is heritable at 30%.  This means there is huge potential to positively impact disease incidence simply though genetic selection.

8 Steps to Strengthen Dairy Immune Response.  One Day at a Time. Every Day.

Dairy cows are under constant attack from metabolic and infectious diseases. A strong immune system defends against pathogens that cows come into contact with when stressed by events such as calving, lactation and extreme temperature changes. Take steps to prevent infections, reduce the cost of treatments and boost milk production and fertility:  

  • Proactively supplement nutrition during gestation, calving and transition.
  • Monitor body temperature and rumen activity during the first 7 days after calving
  • Manage extreme temperatures to reduce the negative effects.
  • Observe incidents of cows not performing as expected.
  • Collect feed samples for nutrient analysis

Nutrition Supports Immunity: Quality Counts. Supplementation Counts.

When the feed you provide your herd does not provide everything that is needed to meet 100% of each animal’s needs, you should provide quality supplementation.

  • Dairy herd health and production cannot be achieved by feeding inadequate amounts of minerals, vitamins, energy and protein. These exact requirements are challenging to provide. Collect data. Consult with those who can provide answers
  • Monitoring of feed consumption is necessary to assess changes due to weather conditions. Transfer of this knowledge into farm practice is difficult mainly because climatic conditions are considerably more variable than those monitored in laboratories.
  • Feed managers must also be aware of the changes in forage quality that results from the influence of summer temperatures.
  • Work with your nutritionist to identify how reduced feed intake or reduced forage quality is affecting the components of the milk that is produced.
  • Collect feed samples for nutrient analysis. Assess pasture conditions.  

Manage Water for Herd Health

Water is an essential nutrient. When ranking the elements needed for nourishment, water follows only oxygen in importance. However, many times water quality gets overlooked and does not receive the attention that other aspects of the ration receive. Pollutants, dangerous microorganisms and some minerals can affect the production and health of the cow. To check for contaminants, water quality should be evaluated several times a year for coliforms, proper pH levels, minerals, nitrates and nitrites, and total bacteria. 

You Can’t Build Profitable Herd Health on Promises Alone

In herd health, as in human health, it is possible to provide too little supplementation or too much. In the current marketplace, you must place your trust in the honesty of feed and nutrition providers. Of course you want to hear that your feed is going to increase your herd health and your profitability.  However, if delivery of the promised product is slow or non-existent that paper promise is worthless. Don’t get caught in the middle of competing businesses, where you could be susceptible to lowest price wins.  Your profits are built not only on delivery of the product to the farm but upon delivery of results when used. More research and data collection is needed about the quantity of minerals and vitamins consumed, the quantity available (absorbed) and the quantity needed by cows under different situations.

Managing the Dairy Cow Rumen for Better Herd Health

The primary goal is to prevent ruminal acidosis.  It is necessary therefore to use a combination of improved nutrition and good management practices. Although continuous ruminal pH measurements provide reliable results in research settings, consistent results and high costs for on-farm sensors preclude their application on most farms.   

  • The most practical indirect markers for a decline in ruminal pH are the observation of chewing and feeding activities, as well as the monitoring of milk, faecal and blood variables. Here again, specificity and precision of these measurements, limits diagnosis.
  • Monitor portion sizes and ensure the amount of feed consumed is neither excessive or inadequate.
  • Add long fiber particle to boost saliva production.
  • Reduce the volume of easily fermented grains or carbohydrate consumed in each meal.

Manage Dairy Cleanliness for Better Herd Health

Housing does not have to expensive but it does need to be built in ways that allow for maintenance of hygienic conditions and easy access by staff for efficient cleaning and feeding.

  • Ensure that all pens are as clean as possible. Use a strong disinfectant. Let fresh air ventilate each pen.
  • Cattle produce large amounts of manure and urine. If it is not dealt with in a timely and proper manner, it becomes a source of disease for both humans and livestock and also impacts the production of clean milk.
  • It isn’t often that dairy producers adequately consider the nutrient content of manure when it is applied to fields. Few individuals test the soil on any regular basis. Producers most often apply manure to the land because it is available. You can change this now.
  • Contaminated hands are the biggest risk in spreading biological/bacteria. They can also carry microbes to other sites, equipment and staff.
  • Have farm workers who are handling these animals wash their hands, change their clothing and clean their footwear before working with other animals on the farm.

Any piece of equipment or inanimate object that touches your cows can become a carrier of disease.

What system do you have in place to prevent this from happening?

Watch Out for Immunity Headlines and Scare Tactics

Vaccines for animal diseases are nothing new thanks to Louis Pasteur in 1879. What is new are headlines and trends that are leading pet owners to refuse vaccines. This means that although some eradicated diseases (i.e. Rabies in the U.K.) are on the rise.  Allowing vaccine preventable disease to decimate food animals would not only be a severe hit to the economy, it would threaten food security all around the world wherever these animals are a source of protein. 

The HEALTH Focus Has Shifted to Prevention

Perhaps the single biggest advance in dairy health in the last 25 years has been the paradigm shift to focus on disease prevention, rather than treatment. Great progress has been made in understanding the biology of energy metabolism and immune function dairy cows in transition, the time at which the majority of disease occurs.


The dairy focus today rests mainly on the production system until the milk truck leaves the farm. The next challenge will be to broaden the perspective once again, this time to encompass the entire food system, including issues of food safety, product development, environmental issues, consumer demands, food supply and security, and the role of the dairy industry in society as a whole.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Send this to a friend