NADIS Dairy Cattle Forecast – January 2006

NADIS is a network of 40 veterinary practices and six veterinary colleges monitoring diseases in cattle sheep and pigs in the UK.

NADIS data can highlight potential livestock disease and parasite incidence before they peak, providing a valuable early warning for the month ahead.

NADIS disease forecasts are written specifically for farmers,
to increase awareness of prevalent conditions and promote disease prevention and control,
in order to benefit animal health and welfare.
The forecasts are based on national trends and farmers are advised to discuss
their individual farm circumstances with their veterinary surgeon



So far this winter the figures for most fertility problems have been at or around average. However, the NADIS records show that January is often the worst month for fertility so for farms still serving cows, attention to detail, particularly nutrition is important. The most important factor affecting fertility is energy so when you have a fertility problem you need to check what the cows are eating and what they are producing and look at how well they match. Check body condition score regularly, if you can maintain body condition or, better still, improve it you’ll maximise your fertility.

In the last few years many NADIS vets have reported problems with Leptospirosis causing abortion or milk drop at this time of year. This is a bacterial disease which as well as causing problems in cattle can also cause a severe flu-like disease in humans, particularly those who have close contact with cattle urine such as milkers and vets. We have very effective vaccines in the UK which will eliminate disease in cattle and humans, provided they are used correctly. Ask your vet for advice on lepto vaccination; it could save you a lot of money! 


The levels of lameness so far this winter have been below average for all the four main diseases following the trend downwards that has been apparent from the NADIS data since 2000. It is unclear whether this means that lameness is decreasing in the UK dairy herd or whether farmers are increasingly less likely to call out a vet for a lame cow. If it’s the former it’s good news, but there’s should be no complacency as it’s a fall from the very high levels seen in the early to mid 90’s, lameness is still too high and still costs the UK dairy industry too much money. January is the peak month for digital dermatitis so if you’ve had problems this winter get a good footbathing programme in place now and think about treating individual cases in the parlour

Post-calving lameness problems, unlike the other causes of lameness remain at very high levels, with the number of cases seen by NADIS vets increasing year on year. Preventing down cows needs to be a major part of  the herd health plan on all farms.


The level of environmental mastitis has been relatively low so far this season; however, there is still plenty of time for problems to occur, with the NADIS figures showing that the number of cases does not normally drop until May. So even if you have low levels at the moment you need an action plan in place so that problems can be tackled before they become severe. This should include identifying the bacteria by taking clean milk samples from all cases before treatment, sampling a selection of cows (particularly repeat cases) after treatment to ensure that it has worked, cleaning, disinfecting and replacing bedding. It is crucial that only the best quality straw or shavings are used for bedding, using wet or damaged material will only aid the spread of mastitis. This is particularly true for Strep uberis which is currently the mastitis bug most commonly reported by NADIS vets

Metabolic disease

The levels of most metabolic diseases, including hypomagnesaemia and acetonaemia has been low so far this year, with hypomagnesaemia in particular being lower than average. The number of cases of left displaced abomasum so far this winter has been just above the long-term average but you need to look out for this disease in January as for the last three years the number of cases this month has been much higher than the number seen in December. Look out for cows that just begin to drop in yield and appetite without there being an obvious cause. If you catch them earlier treatment is more effective and they return to milk quicker

Other diseases

Liver fluke cases are still being reported. In affected areas cattle that have not received their winter dose should do so as soon as possible. A spring dose for affected herds should also be considered to reduce pasture contamination.

Growing Cattle

Poor pregnancy rates overall have been the major fertility youngstock in December. Many of these low rates were down to inadequate nutrition, particularly of animals kept out at grass. Buffer feeding with good quality forage can pay significant dividends. The cost of a delay in calving in youngstock is the same as the cost for a lactating cow, so the same attention should be paid to their nutrition as adult cattle.

Calving problems were relatively high in this group, often in association with being too fat at calving. This led to a significant increase in down cows and nerve paralyses after calving.

Eye problems have been about average this year, but look out for the increase in cases of ‘silage eye” which normally occur in January. This disease, as its name suggests is almost always associated with feeding silage (usually big-bale). If you can identify it early and remove the source of the problem (that is the suspect batch of silage) you can prevent significant problems developing. Early diagnosis will also allow early treatment with eye cream which is usually effective at this stage. If you pick up cases later many will require veterinary treatment with injections into the tissue around the eye.


The level of disease seen so far this winter in calves is well below average, with low numbers of scour problems and of pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia appears to be the primary problem, particularly in the north of the UK, with few outbreaks where viruses appear to the primary problem. Hopefully the low disease incidence will continue into the spring, but if the weather worsens an increase in these two problems is still very possible. Hygiene and maximising colostrum intake are the best methods of prevention.

Copyright © NADIS 2006


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