Control Johne’s disease and you’ll not only improve the quality of milk produced, but also equip yourself with a strong selling point for marketing stock.

This is the attitude of Dutch dairy producer Kees Gorter, and is one shared by the entire Dutch dairy industry.

Such thinking has driven the development of the country’s Johne’s monitoring programme, which makes regular testing obligatory across the sector.

First set up about four years ago, the initiative was driven by the industry itself, rather than through regulation, but has now become compulsory.

Johne’s was one of three zoonotic diseases identified by the industry as a potential risk to milk quality and subsequently a monitoring programme for salmonella, Johne’s and leptosporosis was devised.

Now, 70% of producers are classified Johne’s free, with anyone failing to get on top of the problem potentially having their milk rejected by their processor.

Speaking as part of the Veepro Holland Dairy Tour, vet Anemiek Veenkamp from Dierenartsenpraktijk Flevoland explained how, depending on status, herds must undergo regular monitoring.

“Each year or every two years, all cows in a herd must be tested for Johne’s and any positive individuals culled out of the herd.

“When all cows are negative, a herd will move to a two-year testing programme and when one or more are identified as positive, the herd must be tested annually.”

Herds are classified according to Johne’s status as follows:

  • A – Johne’s free
  • B – Positive cows identified but culled within six weeks
  • C – Positive cows on farm and haven’t been culled

In fact, Mr Gorter of Bruuns Roge, Friesland, believes so strongly in the merits of eliminating Johne’s in his herd of 150 cows that he has taken steps beyond regulation to stamp out the disease.

“To be classified ‘A’ and Johne’s free, a herd must be tested using milk samples. However, I’m on a more intensive system where cows are tested using manure samples. Manure testing gives a more guaranteed reading you are Johne’s free,” he explained.

Mr Gorter is now classified “10” for Johne’s, which means his herd has been disease free for more than 10 years.

“This is a higher status than ‘A’ and you can only get this classification by testing manure. It may be more expensive, but I have chosen to do it.”

To be awarded this higher status, manure has to be tested every year for the first nine years. Once a herd has been clear for 10 years, testing then goes to every two years.

Dutch Johne’s facts
  • A Johne’s monitoring programme has been in existence for the past four years
  • Dairy producers must test regularly and cull any infected animals
  • Herds are classified as A, B or C depending on status

“I chose to test manure because my cattle are very important to me and I’ve always been aware of the potential human Crohn’s disease risk associated with Johne’s. It was also driven by the vet centre in my neighbourhood.”

Mr Gorter said having high health status also helped market stock. “I sell about 10% of our heifers every year and being Johne’s free means I can easily sell them to other farmers.”

Mrs Veenkamp said the key to controlling the disease was managing stock to prevent initial infection as a young calf.

“Cleanliness, removing calves immediately after calving and only feeding colostrum to a calf from its own mother, before moving on to milk powder, is important,” she said.

Knowing the disease status of purchased animals and not using manure from neighbouring farms could also curb disease spread.

Check health of bought-in cattle

At least half of all beef and dairy herds in the UK are infected with Johne’s, leading to infertility, mastitis, lameness and death.

But farmers are still not checking the health status of animals before buying, increasing the likelihood of importing disease into their herd.

Farmers often feel embarrassed to ask about a herd’s disease status, says vet Dick Sibley of West Ridge Veterinary Practice.

“As a purchaser, the first priority is to ask the question,” says Mr Sibley. “If the vendor hasn’t tested their animals, you can ask other questions to ascertain the likelihood of infection. You can also look in the sale catalogue to see how many ear tag prefixes there are – if they are truly a closed herd there will only be one herd prefix.”