An outbreak of salmonella can be costly to a farm in many ways. The immediate impacts include death loss, treatment costs, and time spent caring for sick animals. Looking through a longer lens, calves and heifers that spend time battling a salmonella infection are likely to have a reduced rate of gain, and for adult cattle, salmonella may mute peak milk production and lead to lower milk production for a whole lactation.
According to veterinarian Keith Poulsen, prevention is the best policy for salmonella control, and that centers around cleanliness.
“The most important and effective way to prevent or decrease salmonella infections on a farm is cleaning and sanitation,” Poulsen said during an episode of the Hoard’s Dairyman “Herd It Here” podcast. “Unfortunately, this is the most labor intensive and difficult strategy to implement on a farm.”
Poulsen, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, explained that salmonella pathogens are often found in feces, dirt, and the environment. It is spread on farms by animals that are shedding the pathogen, and salmonella-causing bacteria can be found in areas such as maternity pens or feedstuffs with fecal contamination.
When it comes to cleaning, there is more than what meets the eye. Poulsen explained that looking “clean” is not good enough. If cleaning out a pen, for example, first all the organic material must be removed. Then the surfaces need to be cleaned, disinfected, and sanitized before animals are brought back into the space.
“There are multiple steps, and it is really labor intensive,” Poulsen acknowledged. “But that, by far and away, is our best way to control salmonella on a farm.”
Feed additives, vaccination, and antibiotics can also be used to reduce and treat salmonella outbreaks, but Poulsen cautioned that there is no “magic bullet.” “Not one of these interventions is going to completely stop an outbreak and prevent them 100% in future,” he noted.
Poulsen reiterated that the farms with the best control of salmonella are spending more time focused on cleaning and sanitation. “Even though it is hard and expensive, and we often don’t see an immediate response to it, in the end, cleaning and sanitation is one of the most important things we can do to keep animals healthy,” he shared.
Poulsen said these farms are also doing more surveillance testing, so they know what strains of salmonella or other pathogens are impacting the herd. With that data, they are able to learn from their mistakes, work with their veterinarian, and keep morbidity and mortality rates down.
“If things are not working, we need to rethink what else is going on so we can implement change sooner,” Poulsen shared.
For more advice on cleaning and sanitation and how it relates to salmonella control on dairy farms, listen to the full “Herd It Here” podcast episode, titled “The ins and outs of salmonella.” This episode was sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health.