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JOHNE'S INFORMATION CENTER - University of Wisconsin Ñ School of Veterinary Medicine
University of Wisconsin - School of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of Wisconsin - School of Veterinary Medicine

Good herd management and a regular testing program will control Johne's disease.

(Updated 3/2010)

You can control Johne’s disease in a herd with two steps: stop new infections from occurring in calves and eliminate the source of infection. Control of Johne's disease takes time and a strong commitment to management practices focused on keeping young animals away from contaminated manure, milk, water, etc.  A typical herd clean-up program may take 5 years or longer. Faster clean-up programs are possible, but they are usually more expensive. The basics of control are simple: new infections must be prevented, and animals with the infection must be identified and removed from the herd. 

Control of Johne's disease in beef cattle takes patience and consistency. The good news is that management changes recommended for Johne's disease control will also help control many other infectious diseases.

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Cow and calf pair

Header #1 test and cull cows

Two basic types of tests are available for Johne's disease: tests focusing on the bacterium (MAP) in manure and tests for antibodies in blood (the ELISA being the most common). Culture is somewhat more sensitive than ELISA at detecting infected cattle, but the ELISA is faster and cheaper.  For a comprehensive discussion of diagnostic tests readers should go to the diagnostics section of this site.

Annual testing of adult cattle in the herd permits an owner to find and cull the subclinical (i.e., still healthy, but MAP-infected) cows that are shedding the organism on the premises. (The higher the ELISA result, the more likely the cow is shedding). If a whole herd test is not feasible, for a partial herd test sampling should focus on the older animals and those in poorer body condition.

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header #2 Cull off-spring of test-positive cows

If any of the cows are test-positive, their offspring still in the herd should be considered at risk for infection and should either be culled or tested annually. Because MAP bacteria are excreted not only in feces but also directly into colostrum and milk and can also infect the unborn fetus, transmission of MAP in beef cattle herds is most likely to occur from dam to off-spring rather than to other calves and herd-mates. Consequently, the highest risk of infection follows family lines: daughters of infected cows have a greater likelihood of being infected than do daughters of non-infected cows. Herd owners wishing to make most rapid progress toward elimination of Johne's disease from their herd will be well advised to cull daughters of ELISA- or culture-positive cows starting with the last daughter born and working backwards in calving history.

However, the calf rearing environment and management will greatly influence risk of infection. On operations where young calves are more confined for longer times with infected adult cattle shedding MAP in their manure, the risk of transmission from adults to non-offspring calves can be significant.

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header #3 avoid or eliminate infection

. . . transmission at breeding

Bull with Johne'sBulls -

Purchase of infected bulls should be avoided by requesting the Johne's disease herd test history from bull owners.  These bulls present much more of a risk through their MAP-contaminated manure vs. their MAP-contaminated semen.  Few if any cases of breeding-transmitted MAP infections have been documented. Exclusive use of artificial insemination is the only alternative.

Cows -

To "rescue" the genetics of valuable cows, embryo transfer is considered a safe means of producing non-infected calves from infected cows. Thorough embryo washing is required and careful selection of paratuberculosis-free recipients is a must.

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Header #4 Correct herd / environmental management

...conditions that facilitate infection spread

While working hard to control the infection, remember not to undo all your good work by re-introducing MAP. As discussed in the Prevention section, avoid bringing cattle into your herd from unknown sources.  This can happen by leasing bulls, purchasing dairy cattle (which have a higher incidence of Johne’s disease than beef cattle) for nurse cows, fertilizing pastures with manure from other herds (particularly dairy herds) or implanting a valuable embryo in a healthy-looking but MAP-infected recipient cow, who then produces an infected calf.

a) Ponds that drain contaminated pastures may harbor MAP for over a year and are very potent means of infection spread and so they should be fenced off.  Clean well water in clean stock tanks should be provided.  If manure-contamination of water troughs occurs, be aware when cleaning the troughs that the organism collects in the sediment. Don’t just dump it on the ground; discard it away from calves.

Photo of muddy water holeb) Over-crowding in wet muddy lots should be avoided, particularly during calving season. If cattle are gathered up for calving, the pasture, calving pens and the cows should be kept as clean and dry as possible. Dam and newborn calf should be removed from the calving area to a lower risk environment as soon as possible.

c) Some producers set up hutches to shelter calves during bad weather. The hutches are small enough to allow the calves to enter but too small for cows, limiting the build-up of and exposure to potentially MAP-contaminated adult manure.

d) Move your mineral feeder away from water sources, reducing congestion and heavy manure contamination in the drinking area.

Photo of beef cow and calfe) Hay bales/rolls for winter feeding should be placed in different sites to prevent accumulation of contaminated feces in one area (areas which are often congregation sites for susceptible calves).

f) Grazing contaminated pastures is a possible means of infection transmission.  Adult animals are at low risk for becoming infected by this route. Till contaminated pastures and wait for time and environmental conditions (repeated changes in temperature, minimize shaded soil by cutting grass/crops/shrubs) to kill off MAP on fields. While a majority of the organisms die within three months, a small population can remain for up to a year.  Put off stocking contaminated pasture with young animals as long as feasible.

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header #5 calf management

For dairy herds, artificial rearing of calves is one of the most effective paratuberculosis control methods. This technique is rarely an option for cow-calf operators, but some small herds try hand rearing with clean colostrum and milk replacer for a few select calves.  However, there’s a good chance that the calf was born infected if the dam is test-positive. 

Prevention is far more cost-effective than control after infection. If herds are infected, a steady consistently applied control program will succeed and potentially eradicate the MAP infection. The foundation of a Johne's control program in cow-calf operations is a test-and-cull plan.

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More information...

For information on the frequency of Johne's disease in U.S. beef cow-calf herds and recommendations from other experts on how to control Johne's disease, readers should go to the articles section of this site, or check out the brochure at  Just click on the “Johne’s Initiative” tab at the top of the web page.