Program encourages proactive approach in dairy herd health

August 09, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences educational program for practicing veterinarians is contributing to healthier herds -- and healthier bottom lines.

During the Dairy Production Medicine certificate program, veterinarians are encouraged to use a holistic approach and examine the entire farm system as consultants for dairy herd health programs. Part of the approach involves using preventative medicine practices instead of addressing only a single problem with one animal during a visit to the farm.

David Wolfgang, Penn State extension veterinarian and senior research associate in veterinary science, said the program helps veterinarians provide better care to dairy herds as they examine how one cow can affect the entire herd.

"The Dairy Production Medicine program tries to help vets step back and see the big picture," Wolfgang said. "Vets are encouraged to move from being reactive to being proactive to make the whole herd healthier."

The course has been offered by the college's veterinary and biomedical sciences department since 1993. The program is offered in 10, three-day modules over a 2 1/2 year period. The sixth group of veterinarians to participate graduated from the course earlier this year.

Topics covered include nutrition, animal health and production, milk quality and mastitis, reproduction, metabolic disease, young-stock growth and care, on-farm food safety, and animal welfare and well-being.

For each module, faculty members from several disciplines within the college presented information to the participants. For example, during the module on young-stock growth and care, agricultural engineers discuss housing; dairy and animal scientists cover nutrition programs; and agricultural economists address economic issues related to young stock.

Dairy producers surveyed said that as a result of the program, fewer unscheduled visits by their veterinarians were required to deal with herd health problems. Producers reported the greatest progress in forage evaluation, milk quality analysis, records analysis and improvement in animal environment. They also said their veterinarians were helpful in addressing complex issues currently facing the dairy industry, such as disease prevention and biosecurity.

"These improvements translated into higher productivity and profitability through reduced feed costs, higher milk yields, reduced somatic cell counts, premium bonuses on milk and increased pregnancy rate," Wolfgang said.

Veterinarians reported that by implementing concepts learned in the course, they were able to improve the cost effectiveness of their services. For example, the number of emergency calls from clients was reduced by an average of 20 percent. Graduates said proactive, preventive health care programs to address mastitis and milk quality problems and to improve reproductive performance and heifer health also increased significantly.

The emphasis on preventative medicine and whole herd-health is important because there is a call for veterinarians to reinvent their practices, Wolfgang said. He pointed to a recent report from the National Research Council on workforce trends in veterinary medicine.

The report said that the profession needs to examine ways to keep pace with societal needs in areas of food animal production. It recommended that veterinarians focus on herd health and preventive medicine -- practices that would help producers improve the financial health of the farm operation.

Wolfgang said the typical veterinarian in the program has been in private practice between five and 10 years. The class of 2012 consisted of 15 practitioners from six states.

Following are graduates of Penn State's 2012 Dairy Production Medicine Certificate Program:

Jennifer Barnard, Mt. Rock Animal Hospital, Shippensburg, Pa.
Curtis Baughman, Applebrook Large Animal Associates, Oxford, Pa.
Geoffrey Butia, Centre Herd Health Services, Centre Hall, Pa.
Karen Gillette, Laurel Hill Veterinary Service, East Smithfield, Pa.
Jennifer Kauf, Dairyside Veterinary Service, Martinsburg, Pa.
Andy Krause, Wood Pond Veterinary Service, North Haverhill, N.H.
Jody Kull, Valley Mobile Veterinary Service, Danville, Pa.
Donn/Ben Laudermilch, Rome Veterinary Center PC, Rome, Pa.
Annie Madison, Starland Veterinary Services, Ithaca, N.Y.
Cory Meyer, Mid-Maryland Dairy Veterinarians, Hagerstown, Md.
Kathleen Rhoads, Straley Veterinarian Associates Inc., Bellefonte, Pa.
Joe Smith, Western Reserve Animal Clinic/Albia Animal Center, Conneaut, Ohio
Anne Starvish, Vergennes Large Animal, Vergennes, Vt.
Andrea Walton, State College, Pa.
Daniel Zawisa, White Oak Veterinary Clinic, Berlin, Pa.

  • An instructor in the Dairy Production Medicine program in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences goes over a technique with veterinarians.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 13, 2012