Survey: Dairy producers making good decisions in animal health

Boehringer Ingelheim
Of the more than 1,000 dairy producers across the country who completed a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of 86% manage a hospital pen. And for good reasons.

Of the more than 1,000 dairy producers across the country who completed a recent survey, an overwhelming majority of 86% manage a hospital pen. And for good reasons. 

“The top reasons producers stated for having a hospital pen is to allow sick cows to regain health, with special regards to cow comfort and well-being,” said Mark van der List, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “Those are the top reasons in my book, too. Rather than leaving them out in a big lactating pen, you can pay extra attention to them in a smaller, less populated, well-managed pen.” 

Dr. van der List, who has traveled all over the world assisting veterinary programs, said one of his favorite quotes is from an experienced large herd manager in Saudi Arabia: “The best place for a sick dairy cow is a well-managed hospital pen. The worst place for a sick dairy cow is a poorly-managed hospital pen.” 

When asked to rank the most important factors in managing a hospital pen out of 12 potential responses, these rose to the top: 

  • Provide clean environment
  • Record every treatment
  • Monitor frequently
  • Reduce stress

“Everything’s important,” emphasized Dr. van der List. “Keeping stocking density at 75% with adequate bunk space is another factor that more than 35% of respondents chose as one of their top five. If animals are crowded, they become stressed. So a hospital pen should be properly sized to allow for the most beneficial recovery.” 

When asked to rank the most important factors in managing a hospital pen, dairy producers gave these responses.

Regarding recording every treatment, nearly 50% of producers chose this as one of their top five.

“The ability to manage milk and meat withhold times after an antibiotic or other treatment is a hallmark of keeping our food wholesome and safe from residues,” said Dr. van der List. 

He cautioned, though, against putting a cow back in the milking string right away even if using an antibiotic treatment with zero milk withhold.

“It’s not necessarily a good thing if those cows don’t ‘have’ to go to the hospital pen. Sure, you are able to sell the milk. However, the disadvantage is that they’re not in a special environment where they can be monitored and allowed to recuperate fully,” he said.

Pneumonia/respiratory tract infections are the number one reason for putting cows in the hospital pen, according to the survey.

“I didn’t realize that would be the top reason,” admitted Dr. van der List. “Mastitis, fresh cow-related diseases, calving difficulties, those are all listed at high percentages too. But the responses do make sense.” 

Pneumonia is the culprit behind 11% of all mortalities in adult dairy cows,2 so it is a constant threat on the dairy. Veterinarian advice, product efficacy and prior experience were the top three factors for deciding which treatment to use against respiratory/pneumonia issues. 

“Working with your veterinarian is critical, as is choosing a reliable, fast-acting antibiotic with broad bactericidal activity,” said Dr. van der List. He said that identifying and treating sick animals early will provide the best outcome.

“Part of the process is looking after our sick animals, making sure they have the optimal chance for a quick recovery,” he added. “There’s no better place to do that than in a well-managed hospital pen, and the survey responses clearly showed dairy producers are doing the right thing.”