Published: 15 Mar 2017 | Last Updated: 16 Mar 2017 08:19:47

Professor Javier Guitian has been awarded a grant by Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board for the following study: Dairy Cattle Health, Welfare and Nutrition (RP2) - Continued analysis of the AHDB heifer cohort to evaluate the importance of early life management on the risk of Johne's disease and support farm-level decisions. 

Johne’s disease causes major financial losses to the British dairy industry through the deterioration in health and productivity and premature culling of affected cattle. Prevention of Johne’s disease is a key strategy for the dairy industry and a multiple-stakeholder ‘Johne’s Action Group’ has been convened to drive this agenda forward.

Since Johne’s disease cannot be treated, prevention of the disease is vital. Transmission of infection mainly occurs in very young calves with the disease moving either from an infected dam or a contaminated environment to infect the calf. The management of young calves is a keystone to prevent Johne’s disease and it is important for dairy farmers to know the reduction in the level of infection of their herds they can expect if they introduce changes to calf management. In addition to the management of young stock, the identification of infected cows and selective culling of those more likely to be shedding the bacteria is needed for effective control and elimination of Johne’s disease from the farm.

In this project we will continue the follow-up of a group of 500 dairy calves recruited as part of a previous study and for which vast detail was has been recorded on events within the first hours and days after birth including video footage. The intention is to follow these calves through their lives such that those infected with Johne’s disease can be identified. In the first study, the calves were followed to 2 years of age. This group of calves followed from birth to weaning and throughout their lives offers an unprecedented opportunity for a long term follow up research study of early life risk factors on the lifetime seroconversion to Johne’s disease.

The project will in parallel expand and explore a vast dataset of almost two million JD tests carried out in UK dairy cows in the last five years to develop evidence-based guidelines on the more cost-effective course of action following a positive test result. With no feasible options to treat infected cows, dairy farmers face the challenge of deciding when to cull JD infected cows and this project aims at providing evidence to support such decisions.  

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