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Comparative risk assessment for new cow-level Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis infections between 3 dairy production types: Organic, conventional, and conventional-grazing systems

Beaver, A., Ruegg, P.L., Gröhn, Y.T., Schukken, Y.H.
Journal of dairy science 2016 v.99 no.12 pp. 9885-9899
Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis, animal pathogenic bacteria, animal welfare, calves, calving, cattle production, comparative risk assessment, conventional farming, cows, dairy farming, disease control programs, disease prevention, enteritis, farms, grazing, grazing management, herds, hygiene, models, organic production, paratuberculosis, regression analysis, risk factors, synergism, tempering, udders, United States
Johne’s disease, a granulomatous enteritis of ruminant animals, is a hidden threat on dairy farms, adversely affecting animal welfare as well as herd productivity. Control programs in the United States advocate for specific management practices to temper the spread of the causal organism (Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis, MAP), such as improving calving area hygiene and limiting introduction of replacement stock with unknown infection status. A need remains for direct exploration of Johne’s disease prevention strategies in the United States with respect to production type. Alongside the growing demand for organic products, the safety of organic dairy practices with respect to MAP control is warranted. Further, conventional herds for which organic practices such as pasture grazing are used should be situated within the risk spectrum. We developed a risk assessment model using the US Voluntary Bovine Johne’s Disease Control Program as a framework, with the goal of evaluating the risk of new cow-level MAP infections. A total of 292 organic and conventional farms in 3 states were surveyed on management practices, and an overall analysis was conducted in which each farm was first scored on individual practices using a range of “no risk” to “high risk,” according to the literature. The sum of all risk factors was then analyzed to quantify and compare the risk burden for each production type. Organic herds received higher overall risk scores compared with both conventional grazing and nongrazing subtypes. To identify which factors contributed to the overall increased risk for organic herds, the management practices were categorized and evaluated by logistic regression. We determined that the increased risk incurred by organic herds was predominantly due to decisions made in the calving area and preweaned calf group. However, although certain individual risk factors related to calf management are commonly involved in prevention strategies (e.g., cow/calf separation) and were thus included in the overall risk assessment, empirical evidence linking them to the spread of MAP is lacking. Instead, these factors are problematic when executed with other management decisions, leading to a hypothesized synergism of transmission risk. To this end, we developed a set of compound risk factors, which were also evaluated as outcomes in logistic regression models, with production type serving as the predictor of interest. Organic farms in our study were more susceptible to risks associated with the synergism of study variables. Notably, organic producers were most likely to allow calves to spend extended time with the dam, while also lacking a dedicated calving area. Additionally, calves in organic herds were more often permitted to nurse even with poor udder hygiene on farm. A heightened vigilance toward calving area hygiene is therefore indicated for these herds.