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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


Heading: case 1 the prestigious breeder

The story is true but the names of owners and breeds have been changed to protect the innocent.

Willy Williams was an avid Angus breeder. His herd was closed and he had been using artificial insemination to improve the genetics of his herd for many years. One year Willy decided to buy two of the best cows he could find. The president of the regional Angus breeder association, Amy Albert, was having a sale and she had some of the best Angus genetics around. Willy paid $6,000 each for Photo of angus heifersfive bred heifers: ear tags #21, 5, 18, 33, and 89. The newly bought cattle were added to Willy's resident herd in December and in the spring all had lovely healthy calves. Three months after calving, #21 appeared thinner than the rest of the herd and her manure was somewhat loose. The herd was on a good parasite prevention program but the herd veterinarian did a check for parasites on a fecal sample from #21 anyway. The parasite check was negative. Considering other possible causes of weight loss and diarrhea in adult cattle, the veterinarian next drew a blood sample and submitted it for Johne's disease testing by ELISA. The result came back a week later: "Strong positive; S/P = 0.90".


Some pressing questions arose at this point such as....

  • is the diagnosis correct?
  • should the diagnosis be confirmed?
  • how can the diagnosis be confirmed?
  • what does Willy do with #21 and her calf while waiting for diagnosis confirmation if this is what he elects to do?

If you do not know the answers to these questions, you should read the diagnosis topics for both beef and dairy cattle.


Four months later a laboratory report came back that M. paratuberculosis was isolated from a fecal sample taken from #21.

Now, more questions arise such as........

  • has the infection spread to other cattle or calves in the same pasture?
  • how can the pasture be cleaned up?
  • are the other cattle purchased from Amy also likely to have Johne's disease?
  • can Willy safely sell cattle to others?
  • does Willy have to tell prospective buyers that Johne's disease has been diagnosed in his herd?
  • did Amy know Johne's disease was in her herd before selling these heifers?
  • did the bill of sale say anything about the health status of the cattle?
  • was Willy certain the infection was not in his herd before purchase of these heifers and does he have laboratory proof of this?
  • is Amy responsible for the value of #21 and her calf?
  • is Amy responsible for costs to control Johne's disease in Willy's herd?
  • if Amy does not offer to compensate Willy, where does Willy go to find a lawyer who knows about Johne's disease?

This type of story happens all the time. Sometimes it can lead to litigation. More often it just causes either a headache, a heartache or both.

red line

Case lessons:

1. Test your own herd annually to verify its Johne's disease status.
  2. BE A SMART BUYER. Always ask for Johne's disease test results on the herd from which you plan to purchase cattle.
  3. Quarantine purchased cattle until you can get one or more Johne's disease tests done; ideally such animals should be tested by both ELISA and fecal culture.
  4. Registered cattle breeders have a lot at stake. They must practice good biosecurity with their herd to protect their investment. Introduction of a chronic, infectious, untreatable disease like Johne's disease to their herd can have devastating consequences for their business.

This site offers more information on prevention of Johne's disease and articles from lay journals about the Johne's disease in beef cattle.