3. Improved Farm Management and Strategic Testing Case Studies

Andrew Gilman
Andrew Gilman

Andrew Gilman

Andrew Gilman farms 200 cows plus followers on a privately owned 400 acre estate farm on the outskirts of Tamworth in Staffordshire. His family have farmed there since the 1900's and in the last 12 years Andrew has built cow numbers up from 80 to the current 180 now milking. Initially loose housed, the expansion of cow numbers also resulted in a new cubicle shed with 140 deep sand bedded cubicles, a decision that has seen a marked reduction in mastitis incidences and overall herd cell count. The herd initially increased to 100 and then two years ago up to 140, at this stage an additional 50 cubicles were added to the main cow building allowing for the further expansion to the current number. On three times a day milking the cows are housed all the time and fed a TMR diet of grass and maize silage, a soya and rape blend, bread waste, Trafford Gold and additional fats, yeast and minerals. Dry cows and heifers graze the 70 acres of grassland during summer, with an additional 70 acres available for rotation; 100 acres are allocated to growing maize and the remaining land mass is sown with wheat. The calving pattern is all year round with the herd averaging 10,500kg at 3.8% fat and 3.3% protein. In expanding numbers cattle have been purchased from both Holland and France, guaranteeing TB free stock alongside having a high health status.

Andrew explains their first experience of Johne's was with a Limousin stock bull, 13 years ago which tested positive for Johne's and was culled as a result. Over the last ten years they have adopted quarterly milk testing for Johne's as a key way of monitoring the status of the disease within the herd. In addition they have adopted several control strategies for any cows that have a high test. Dry cows on the farm are split into two groups, a 'far off' group and a group close to calving (3 weeks up to calving group) Any suspect Johne's cows are not allowed in the close to calving group and instead remain with the far off dry cows and then are snatch calved. The cow then enters the main group immediately following calving. The milkers are also split into two groups, the first are fresh calven cows that stay in this group till around 120 days, by which stage they are hopefully pd’d back in calf, when they move into the second group. A Holstein bull is run amongst this group during the day time to sweep up any cows not in calf to try and tighten the calving pattern. The bull then spends the evenings amongst the heifer group to keep age at first calving down as well. When buying a bull, Andrew has in past bought from a closed herd in the locality with a known high health status and recommended by his vet. The bull will then be used on the herd for around 21 months being replaced before his offspring are ready to breed.

The second control against Johne’s that Andrew is confident has reduced the incidence of disease in his herd is ensuring colostrum is only taken and frozen from clean cows, reducing the possibility of transmission to new born calves. Lists of Johne’s cows are situated at varying points around the farm as a constant reminder. Milking three times a day means there is always someone being vigilant around the cows, either one of the two full-time staff; Andy and Nigel or Andrew himself. Breeding any suspect cows to a terminal beef sire is routine procedure and a final control measure. All beef calves are sold on and only dairy replacements are reared.

Keen to get the highest performance out of his cows, Andrew has three-monthly meetings with both Kite farm consultant, David Levick and vet, Rose Jackson or Olly Maxwell of Scarsdale Veterinary practice. He is sure bringing together both the vet and the consultant in the same meeting reaps the best results and clear advice and guidance, leading to successful results. With fortnightly routine vet visits Andrew works closely with the vets at Scarsdale, they have access to his milk records and performance measures and with the shared information they together have formulated an effective herd health plan.

After ten years of regular screening and implication of several protocols again Johne’s, Andrew has not had any red cows for several tests now and the herd has only two orange cows. From past experience cows that have tested positive are often culled for other reasons/ailments and by continuing with the quarterly milk testing and following the procedures in place he is optimistic that the incidence of the disease is under control within his herd.

Looking forward if the current milk industry climate was to upturn Andrew would like to look at further expanding to 500 cows providing the costings stack-up. In the meantime in the short term the next investment will be in replacing the current heat detection system that is ten years old. Having the most advance technology for heat detection will see them use more sexed semen to breed herd replacements and then beef semen across the rest of the herd.
The Bone Family
Stephen Bone (right) with herdsman Nigel Mountstephens (left)

Stephen Bone (right) with herdsman Nigel Mountstephens (left)

Stephen Bone farms 970 acres across three farms. Trengwainton Farm in Madron, Cornwall is home to the 220 cow milking herd averaging 10,000kg at 3.9% fat and 3.3% protein with a calving interval of 384 days. The milk is sold to Davidstow on a cheese contract, their focus is on breeding to improve herd health and milk proteins. Ongoing monitoring of milk protein levels can also be used as a good indicator of the cows’ energy status. Calving is generally between August and January which provides plenty of opportunity to get the cows back in calf whilst they are housed over the winter months. They are fed a winter total mixed ration consisting of grass and maize silage, barley whole crop and Maximom urea treated barley grain. The cows are topped up with concentrates in the parlour fed according to yield and age.

Stephen first began testing for Johne’s disease in his dairy herd five years ago. At the time he noticed that they were losing two or three cows a year that were repeatedly treated for varying ailments with no success. When tested for Johne’s disease on blood they often came back positive and some cases were seen to be showing clinical signs of wasting. This lead to the decision to take proactive action and they began milk testing quarterly.

On the first test the herd of 200 cows were sampled. The results showed three red (positive) cows, two orange and the rest green (negative). Despite the relatively low prevalence of Johne’s disease, Stephen was keen to take further proactive action to help improve and maintain their Johne’s disease status.

Having a long association with Rosevean Vets, Stephen consulted with vets Duncan Bruce and Matthew Berriman on the next course of action. ‘Duncan and Matt have always been very supportive and proactive. We felt it was vital to get a protocol in place on the farm as quick as possible’ explains Stephen. As a starting point any offspring from cows that had tested positive were given a red ear tag and if they weren’t already in calf, they were served to a beef breed. This meant that only ‘clean’ cows were served to dairy sires to produce replacements. If a cows results changed and they became red during its lactation it was given a red ear tag, snatch calved and the calf was also red tagged at birth to ensure neither the dam nor calf was kept in the milking herd.

Tagging all the offspring seemed a daunting task to begin with. In their first year of implementing the ear tagging, of the 65 heifers they had to serve 20 had red tags in their ears and so were served to beef breeds. The second year saw similar numbers, however Stephen persisted with identifying possible ‘dirty’ animals with the long term aim of controlling the disease in the herd at the forefront. In this last year however, there were 104 heifers to serve and only one had a red tag. Although it has been a long process the results of the stringent testing and tagging protocol is now demonstrating how successful it has been.

Although they have continued to milk red tagged cows through to the end of their lactation, they have immediately culled any that showed any suspect clinical signs, including those showing signs of scouring. ‘Red tag cows are definitely more prone to mastitis and lameness’ adds Stephen and in addition have poor fertility, which has been particularly obvious during routine scanning sessions. The milking herd now stands at 220 head of cattle with only 5% having red tags. Overall, the herd is much healthier and this year for the first time, due to reduced culling and improved fertility, they have had a surplus of replacements and therefore have been able to sell 15 heifers, with full confidence that these animals are of high herd health status. Alongside implementing tagging and testing the farm has also tightened up on bio security. Two of the four calving pens are allocated purely to calving red tagged cows. These two ‘dirty’ pens are away from the two ‘clean’ ones and boot disinfectant points are located at the gates of each pen.

All calves are fed on powdered milk from birth to break the cycle of transmission of Johne’s disease through the colostrum or milk. Beef calves reared separately, again minimising the risk of Johne’s disease transmission to dairy replacement animals, before being stores sold off farm as store cattle. Disinfection points are located at the entrance/exit of the calf rearing sheds. Stephen adds that awareness is key and it’s amazing how quickly the mind set of increasing bio security sets in. ‘On a recent on farm meeting we were conscious to keep visitors out of the central feed passage after they had been amongst the cows, something simple but key to ensure the cows didn’t ingest any ‘dirty’ feed’.

Ensuring his staff follow the protocols that have been put in place has also been instrumental in the success of the control programme. Stephen’s herdsman Nigel Mountstephens has been employed on the farm for over ten years and alongside full time staff William Bucket and William Jelbert their attention to detail and appreciation of the protocols on farm has been fundamental to the success of the farms control of Johne’s disease. Nigel regularly milks and his vigilance towards the cows has been a critical part of the control explains Stephen. It is important that the staff both have and share the knowledge of the disease and more over act up on it. ‘We have always followed the rule that once a red always a red’ Stephen says and now they have just 11 suspect cows in the milking herd at least half of which are due to be culled this year.

He concludes that he will definitely continue with regular testing. In the five years of testing the cost of milk sampling is far cheaper than the cost of having a Johne’s disease positive cow shot and disposed of on farm. Through being part of the Johne’s disease initiative and working with Rosevean Vets, the farm has actively implemented the strategic control methods in the National Johne’s Management Plan, from improving farm management and implementing protocols to the regular testing and culling of infected animals. Using beef sires as a terminal sire on any cows red tagged has also played its part in reducing the number of Johne’s disease suspect cows in the herd. A Hereford bull is used as a sweeper bull on the farm, but Stephen makes sure that the bull is purchased from a herd with a known high health status. Finally, Stephen views the control of Johne’s disease in dairy herds as essential. ‘Acting against diseases like this is a form of protecting ourselves as farmers against unproductive cows in our herds which ultimately just cost you money’. His results from the last five years of testing, together with the hard work and vigilance of his staff, are now showing the benefits of the control programme implemented from the guidance of the Johne’s disease initiative.
The Bowe Family, Dalston, Cumbria
For Mike and Donna Bowe at Dalston in Cumbria Johnes disease has been a problem they have been aware of within their herd since 2004 following restocking post Foot and Mouth in 2001. Despite being very proactive in their approach to controlling and dealing with the issue of Johnes, in conjunction with their vets, David Black and Diether Prins from the nearby Paragon Veterinary Group they feel they are still very much learning about Johnes and will in their own circumstances as a true commercial herd which is still expanding, expect it will be virtually impossible to eradicate it within their lifetime - such is the challenging nature of the disease.

They feel passionately that the problem of Johnes is one to be tackled and managed by the whole agricultural industry from farmers, to vets, to auctioneers and many others involved in farming. And that everyone has a responsibility to understand the disease and to play a role in controlling its spread within the farm and between farms. At the height of the problem at Chalk Lodge Farm there was a new clinical case most months, but through annual blood tests and meticulous recording of the risk status of all animals on the farm, initially by Donna and now by Mike and Donna's daughter Vienna, clinical cases within the 700 cow commercial Black and White herd are now rare.

Over time as the joint understanding of Johnes disease between David and the Bowe family has developed, the risk based strategy on farm has evolved. The team on farm has learnt to identify cows before going down with the clinical disease ensuring they are culled with some value. Importantly annual bleeds have been done for the last five years, whereas now cows are blood tested at drying off - creating a more real time picture of the disease as well as the sample being taken at a potentially more stressful time in the animals cycle, as the disease is deemed to manifest itself more when an animal's immunity is challenged or compromised. Mike has considered that in the current climate financial savings could be made by stopping testing - however he acknowledges this would quickly undo six years of good work. Furthermore there is an argument that more can be done to cull cows at high risk in the current farming climate when stock are not as valuable. He also mentions that a strong character is needed in dealing with the disease - making the decision to sell a cull cow for £800 to remove the infected animal from the national herd versus selling on the problem to another producer for £1500 - £2000 requires immense honesty. However there is an underlying effect from the disease on herd performance on many levels - by now actively tackling the issue at Chalk Lodge the herd has seen much better fertility, as well as less lameness, improved cell counts and better calf health, as the herd incidence of Johnes has dropped to its current level of 6%.

Attention to detail and education are two key areas which the Bowe family feel will help the industry tackle Johnes going forward. In the first instance can students, farm staff and farmers be more aware of the disease? Mike feels it can be hard to motivate staff to implement protocols which are so crucial to controlling the disease but can be time consuming and not the 'easy option'- such as making sure milk is not pooled and cross contamination is minimised. For a herd this size until herd expansion has stopped, cows classifed as high risk may not be culled immediately - so alternative strategies such as pasteurising colostrum, followed by feeding all heifer calves with powdered milk, individually penned with dedicated feed and water buckets are crucial. Following a trip to the USA by Mike the family has also spent around £5000 on creating a new calving yard. This has four pens all with locking head yokes and bunkers in front, where the calf, having been snatched, is placed - in front of the dam for bonding and licking, but away from faeces removing most of the threat of dung to calf contamination. The cows calve onto rubber matting, with the whole area washed down and cleaned after each new born. Mike says this new area and approach has been tremendously successful as well as aiding cows cleansing. Any calves from a Johnes dam are marked as such in the calf house, and again Donna and Vienna's record keeping is exemplary in terms of showing the potential passage of the disease through generations - even with some blips when it skips a generation.

Each farm has different abilities and scope to work and control Johnes disease. The Bowe are conscious that space limitations prevent the gold standard approach, which would see red cows calved in an entirely separate area with the calves also reared separately. Either that or the red, high risk animals would be culled immediately, but for now the use of beef sires on these identified animals is another strategy in controlling Johnes. Vaccination is not a route they have gone down, but they note a word of caution in that animals which have been vaccinated will show as positive in the test, something they encountered with bought animals which had been vaccinated. All in all the nature of Johnes determines a farm specific approach for farmers in conjunction with their vets and an open mind to continue learning and modifying how best to deal with the challenges it creates.
Stuart Webster

Stuart, John and Andrew Webster

Stuart Webster and his herdsman John Hind farm 170 pedigree Holsteins and followers at Aurora Park Farm, Scales located just a mile from the coastline of the Furness Peninsula in Cumbria. The 250 acres is mainly grass, with just five acres put down to whole crop each year, needless to say cows are grazed through summer and then cubicle housed through winter on a diet of grass silage, whole crop and moist feeds.

First cut silage is taken on the 11th May (weather permitting), with second cut five weeks later and a third and final cut taken end of July/early August. Silage is analysed each year and the concentrates fed in the parlour adjusted accordingly. The cows currently receive a 16% protein cake fed to yield to a maximum of 8kg. On this relatively conventional system the cows are performing well averaging 9600kg at 3.8% fat and 3.12% protein, with SCC of 93 x1000cells/ml based on their 12 month rolling average.

Operating a completely closed herd, Stuart and John are focussed on maintaining a high herd health status and as part of this have been monitoring the milking herd for Johne’s disease for five years.

Stuart explains that when they started recording with the CIS, they began milk testing each cow for Johne’s disease as well, adopting Strategy 3 from the NJMP of ‘Improved Farm management and Strategic Testing’. Thankfully test results have always shown a low incidence of the disease and interestingly the only cows that classified red/amber were almost always ones that were on the list to cull anyway.

Since starting the monitoring process, the milking herd are tested every quarter and reviewed with vet Andrew Crutchley at the routine visit. A blood or faecal sample is also collected from any suspicious cows. Any cows showing red from a milk test result and a positive result from a blood sample are considered high risk. If in-calf, they are calved separately and kept well away from the calving pen and young stock until they are culled. John adds they don’t keep any calves from suspect positive cows and are also very careful to ensure no colostrum is taken from them.

Both the regular monitoring and careful management of high risk animals has seen a continual decline in the number of cows falling into red or amber categories on the milk test results and on the latest test the entire milking herd was green. This won’t stop Stuart and John continuing to monitor though as Stuart explains, the testing provides ongoing reassurance and as a closed herd breeding all their own replacements it is important to guarantee the next generation of heifers have no underlying health issues.

Implementing a control programme has being particularly important at Aurora Park as calves are fed, in the first instance, their dam’s colostrum and then reared to weaning on whole milk from the herd. It is therefore essential that the calves are only receiving milk from cows shown not to be shedding Johne’s disease minimising the risk of any possible transmission into the young stock.

The Johne’s disease monitoring scheme is just one part of the infectious disease control plan for Aurora Park Farm, with the herd currently BVD free, Leptospriosis vaccinated and IBR monitored. As the herd is pedigree, maintaining this known health status certainly adds value to any surplus heifers that Stuart sells, he adds that looking to the future they may go a step further and aim to achieve fully accredited Johne’s disease free status.

The fertility figures for the herd also demonstrates how well managed and healthy the cows are. The current calving interval is running at 384 days, average days to first service 55 and average days to conception is just 87. On average 2.2 straws are used per cow, with AI commencing from 40 days and 43% of all services resulting in conception. Any cows not served by 42 days are presented at the next routine vet visit for treatment. If treatment is unsuccessful they are programmed for fixed time AI (Ovsynch). Aiding them in keeping the calving interval down is the Silent Herdsman System and they use a mating programme from Semex to minimise any inbreeding. Sexed semen is used on heifers, with a Hereford bull used to sweep up and an aim to calve them in at two years old. The majority of the rest of the herd are bred pure with a small amount of British Blue and Fertility Plus semen used to sweep up and for the lower end of the herd.

Operating a replacement rate of around 25%, the current herd dynamic is a varied mix of ages from the 41 heifers milking ranging through to some 10th calved cows. With improved herd health over the years and the use of sexed semen in the heifers providing more available replacements, Stuart and John have seen a noticeable and welcome shift towards more voluntary culls, with three key areas looked at, lameness, fertility and cell counts. Being in the position to make voluntary culls has also attributed to improvements in the herds performance.

Looking to the future there are plans to make some modifications to the farm, in particular improving the cubicle housing and moving from paper waste and straw to rubber mats to reduce hock swellings and improve cow comfort. The parlour is also targeted for a remodel scaling up from the 12x24 herringbone to a 20x24 reducing milking time, although there are no plans to increase herd size as land is the limiting factor. Herd health will remain a priority for Stuart and John and alongside their careful management and guidance from Andrew at Westmorland Veterinary Group the Aurora herd will continue to perform.
Marshalls Farm
Case Study Strategy 3: Improved Farm Management and Strategic Testing
Ben Brearley, The Livestock Partnership
Kate Lywood, Marshalls Farm
Kate Lywood manages the family farming business at Marshalls Farm, Kirdford and has been working with vet Ben Brearley to control Johne’s through Improved Farm Management and Strategic Testing.  

Marshalls Farm is a 650 acre dairy and arable farm in West Sussex, with plans to milk 450 spring calvers with young stock. It has been a closed herd for over 30 years with a strong belief that prevention is better than cure, remaining free of production diseases such as BVD and Leptospirosis.  

Their Johne’s plan on farm includes the identification and culling of all high-risk animals and any closely related offspring. They then put management measures into play to help prevent the exposure of young calves to animals which are potentially shedding Johne’s disease but cannot or have not yet been identified by the current testing regime.  

The Marshall family have carried out this approach since the identification of Johne’s disease three years ago. The full benefits of the programme have not been shown yet as it is too early to tell if animals have been infected since the control measures were adopted.  

Vet Ben Brearley said; “We would recommend the early adoption of any Johne’s disease control measures as it is such a long term project. It is important to find out as soon as possible what your risks are, what your likely prevalence may be and to start a control plan early.”