January 23, 2018 - Individual Animal Care on the Dairy



Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - Over the past few years, heightened scrutiny has been placed on antibiotic use in animal agriculture. The spotlight continues to be on the judicious use of antibiotics. One dairy taking that to heart is Prairieland Dairy. The operation is owned by nine families who merged a few years ago to dairy near Firth, Neb. Today the operation milks about 1,400 cows. Megan Hickey is a daughter in one of the original families and the herd manager.

Prairieland Dairy was chosen as the grand prize winner of the Boehringer Ingelheim Producers for Progress recognition program out of 200 applicants. The program recognizes producers who demonstrated their commitment to the well-being of animals, consumers and the industry with the judicious use of antibiotics.

“Our philosophy is to treat every cow like an individual,” Hickey says. “Blanket treatment has never appealed to me.”  

Each case of mastitis is cultured in their on-farm lab. Cultures are read at 24- and 48-hour intervals, and cows are treated accordingly. This selective mastitis therapy has its benefits, including less expense and getting cows back into the milking string earlier.

In the fresh pen, Hickey is selective about which cows need treatment. “Just because a cow has a baby doesn’t mean that she needs an antibiotic,” she says. “If I suspect that a cow has an issue, then they get temped and checked to determine if she needs treatment.”

Hickey also uses monitoring tools to identify cows that might have an issue. She gets an alert on cows that have deviated from their normal production or activity patterns. “We use an if-then approach to animal care,” Hickey says, where diagnosis triggers an animal care action in a decision tree format.

Hickey also relies on technical veterinarians from animal health companies, who help analyze data when she needs another set of eyes.  Many animal health companies offer programs that train employees on proper antibiotic use.

“Going from blanket mastitis treatment to the culturing system, we’ve saved about $15,000 per year in drugs alone,” Hickey says. That doesn’t include the extra milk that would have been held out until the cow was cleared of antibiotics. “Our main driver in making and following protocols is from the animal welfare standpoint. We looked at what we were doing to cows and treat them as individuals and not just a bunch of dairy cows,” she says. “I have peace of mind about how we are running things.”

COMMENT: Kudos to the folks at Prairieland Dairy.  It is gratifying to know someone is following the antibiotic guidelines. I am concerned, though, that representatives of Pharmaceutical companies are part of the management team. 

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