Counting the cost of Johne’s Disease – How one farm dealt with an outbreak

Johne’s Disease is an infectious bacterial disease of cattle and other ruminants which usually become infected in the early weeks of life.

In the latest Animal Health Ireland (AHI) bulletin, it details how one farm in Co. Meath dealt with the disease outbreak.

Between 2005 and 2012, it estimates that the disease was costing the 180 cow herd in the region of €20,000-30,000 on an annual basis.

According to the AHI, the farm sourced replacement stock from outside of Ireland, following a TB outbreak in the 1990s.

Within a three year period the entire herd of 180 milking cows was replaced by imported stock due to the continuing TB problem.

By the early 2000s, the farm began to see sick animals which were scouring and becoming thin.

The AHI says that although clinical signs began to appear, the initial veterinary advice pointed to a problem with parasite control.

However, the cows on the farm were suffering from a Johne’s Disease outbreak and in 2005, it became involved in the Johne’s Disease control programme operated by the Department of Agriculture.

In the first round of testing they had in excess of 60 animals positive on blood tests – almost 40% of the herd.

Between 2005 and 2012, an average of 20 clinical cases were culled each year but this number was reduced in the later years.

The AHI also reports the efforts to tackle Johne’s disease have continued on the farm, while the herd has grown in size from 180 to 400 cows since 2005.

It says that the farm joined the AHI Johne’s Disease voluntary programme from the start in 2014 and have further improved the farming practices as a result of the on-farm risk assessment.

The apparent herd prevalence has gone from 40% when they first started on their journey to an apparent herd prevalence today of 2% with no clinical cases.

Since they began to tackle the disease on their farm, the AHI says they have seen improved fertility and a significant reduction in the use of antibiotics on the farm with a general improvement in the health of the herd.

How Johne’s Disease has been controlled on the farm?
  • The farmers continue to work closely with their own vet
  • Cows calves in their own individual pens
  • All pens are washed out and disinfected after each calving
  • Calves are snatched from their dams at 10 minutes after birth to prevent the risk of infection
  • Each new-born calf is given two feeds of colostrum from their own dam or from a test negative cow
  • No slurry is spread on the calf grazing area
  • Annual blood tests for Johne’s Disease are taken in December
  • Test-positive cows are isolated and culled, heifer calves from these cows are also culled