When a dairy cow develops a disease, producers take steps to get her well. Unfortunately, the common task of moving a sick cow to the hospital pen may be doing more harm than good.
"We think about a hospital as a place to get well, but that isn’t necessarily the case," said Mike Lormore, DVM, MS, MBA, director of Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis. "Hospital pens can be a risky place, especially for fresh cows, and this can affect the entire dairy. Producers need to understand the risks of managing hospital pens and work to avoid unnecessary pen moves."
Hospital pen risk: Contracting another disease
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that one in every 20 inpatients has an infection related to hospital care.1 Similarly, dairy hospital pens can be risky environments, especially for fresh cows that may have depressed immune systems, increasing their likelihood of contracting a new infection.
"With proper treatment and care, a dairy cow has a good chance of recovering from an initial disease incident," Dr. Lormore said. "However, if a cow gets a second disease, especially Salmonellosis or Mycoplasma mastitis, it’s much more likely that cow will not recover to previous production and health. Additionally, she is at great risk of early removal from the herd."
The prevalence of Salmonella has been on the rise across U.S. dairies.2 In a hospital pen, the risk is even greater. A cow is 11 times more likely to contract the bacteria in a hospital pen than anywhere else on the dairy.3 Salmonella infections can lead to reduced milk yield, weight loss, poor reproductive performance and death in dairy cows.
Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) is another bacterium that easily can be contracted in the hospital pen. In one study, 70% of cows entering the hospital pen contracted M. bovis clinical mastitis within 12 days of entering the hospital pen.4
Hospital pen risk: Controlling disease from the herd
During their stay in the hospital pen, fresh cows can become carriers of disease. If they don’t show signs of a clinical infection and are returned to their regular pen, the bacteria they now are carrying can follow them back to the milking herd. For example, cows with subclinical Salmonella infections can shed the bacteria to their herdmates without showing any symptoms. This puts your entire herd at risk.
Hospital pen risk: Mistakes leading to drug residues
When cows with different illnesses enter the hospital pen, they also have different treatment protocols and needs. Mistakes can happen, which can lead to violative drug residues.