University of Wisconsin–Madison

JD Control Improves Calf Health & Dairy Income

A research team in Guelph, Canada demonstrated the significant economic benefit to dairy farms working to control Johne’s disease and neonatal calf diarrhea. The analysis evaluated only changes to farm management (no diagnostic testing). Specifically, they evaluated changes to one or more of the following areas: (1) calf feeding, (2) maternity pen management, and (3) maternity area structure. These two diseases were investigated because control programs for one disease often work to control the other so herd owners get double the benefits when implementing control programs focused on changing farm management methods. This excellent article appeared in the January issue of the Journal of Dairy Science and is Open Access [21 pages with 52 references].


The objective of this study was to perform a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of a participatory extension model, called Ontario Focus Farms (FF), which was designed to facilitate the adoption of on-farm management practices to control Johne’s disease (JD) on Ontario (ON) dairy farms. Partial budget models were developed to estimate the annual herd cost of JD on an average 78-cow Ontario dairy herd and the annual herd cost of neonatal calf diarrhea (NCD). With these estimates, a CBA was developed to assess the simulated net benefits of implementing various on-farm management scenarios (i.e., implementing 1, 2, or 3 of the following: calf feeding, maternity pen management, maternity area structure changes), where the benefits represent a reduction in the annual cost of JD and NCD. These models informed the final CBA assessing the net benefits of FF implementation over a 10-yr period. All monetary values are reported in Canadian dollars (Can$; where 1 Can$ = 0.823 US$ at the time of the study).

The annual herd cost of JD was estimated to be $3,242 ($41.56/cow), and that of NCD was estimated to be $1,390 ($36/heifer calf). When farms were expected to have both JD and NCD, all scenarios, when implemented over a 10-yr period, yielded positive net benefits ranging from $439 to $2,543 per farm when changes to maternity area structure were combined with calf feeding changes. These effects were sensitive to changes in level of disease (JD and NCD) on the farm, and the costs and effects of making changes. The NPV of making any on-farm change when JD was not present on the farm was negative. Overall, FF implementation yielded positive net benefits of $426,351 or $749,808, depending on whether a veterinarian or non-veterinarian served as the facilitator. The NPV was most sensitive to changes in burden of disease, the cost of implementing changes, and the proportion of FF participants that had JD and NCD on the farm. Benefits of FF implementation are also likely to accrue to veterinarians, as a result of professional facilitator training, and the Ontario dairy industry, as a by-product of improved milk quality and safety; therefore, the true net benefits of FF implementation are likely underestimated. Overall, the FF process should be considered an economically viable program and worthy of investment as part of a JD control strategy, as it demonstrates potential to yield positive net benefits for the Ontario dairy industry.


Conclusions from the publication: The total annual herd cost of JD to an average Ontario dairy farm, with a true within-herd prevalence of 10%, was estimated to be $3,242. The total annual herd cost of NCD to an average Ontario dairy farm, with an incidence rate of 23%, was estimated to be $1,390. Implementation of various combinations of calf feeding changes, maternity pen management changes, and maternity area structure changes resulted in varying net benefits in these simulations, depending on the presence of JD and NCD, the true burden of disease, and the specific management practices implemented. Overall, the implementation of the FF process over a 10-yr period yielded positive net benefits, suggesting that its implementation would be valuable for reducing the burden of JD and NCD on Ontario dairy farms.

Comment: As the authors mention, ensuring that producers follow the recommended control program consistently over time is a key factor in the realization of benefits. External farm advisers, such as veterinarians, are critical to this effort. Also, adoption of multiple management changes is most economically beneficial if the farm is dealing with both JD and neonatal calf diarrhea.