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How are “Good Health Records” achieved?

 By following a written Health Record Management Plan based on…

…The 3 Simple Rules of Good Recording:

1) Record all disease episodes

Record ALL disease episodes identified regardless of severity, duration or treatments!

Some dairies only record disease episodes that are considered ‘severe’; others only record those cases that are treated with a drug that has a withdrawal.  Record them all and include severity or treatment.  This allows you to compare the outcomes of cases based on these criteria and determine how best to manage your cows on your dairy based on your records!

Accurate, industry-wide health records will allow: future genetic selection based on disease resistance, comparison of disease incidence and evaluation of treatment efficacy across the industry.  Current ‘user-defined’ health records lack accuracy thus comparisons between farms can’t be made, as is done with reproduction and milk production records.


Use these recommended disease definitions.

2) Use a single, specific event to record each disease

Make and record specific disease diagnoses.

Call it what it is! The FDA wants to know what disease was being treated, you want to know disease occurred, how it was managed and the outcome of those management decisions.

  • Make a specific disease diagnosis and record it.  For example if you diagnose a fresh cow with a uterine infection record it as METR or METRITIS not DIRTY, ILL, EXNL, INFUSE or TREATED.
  • Don’t lump different diseases into a single, non specific event like ILL, TREATED or OTHER or a treatment event like EXNL or TREATED.

Pick one event and stick with it!

  • Record all cases of a disease using the same event.  For example record cows with clinical mastitis as MAST only, not MAST, ECOLI, MYCO and STAPH.  Record specific information about the disease episode in the remark.
  • Use a different event for re-treatments. This keeps the count of disease episodes accurate and makes it possible to easily identify clinical episodes that failed to respond to initial therapy.
  • Avoid recording an event for every day of treatment.  Doing so inflates disease episode counts.

3) Record the same information, in the same order with the same abbreviations for all disease episodes.

Record the Same INFORMATION for every episode of disease recorded.  The information recorded is dictated by the answers you want to get from the cows.  At a minimum record the following:

  • Treatment
    • Limit to those with a meat or milk withdrawal time or other treatment you may want to evaluate.
    • Always include “no treatment (NT)” as an option.  This clearly indicates treatment was not given.  If treatment information is missing from a record there is no way to know if treatment was truly not given or if it just wasn’t recorded.
  • Lesion location (quarter with mastitis, foot that is lame)
    • Recording quarter or foot is critical to evaluating where management may have failed.
      • A repeat (recurrent) episode of mastitis in the same quarter suggeststreatment failure.
      • Another clinical episode in a different quarter suggests prevention failure.
  • Cow location (pen the cow was in when diagnosed with disease)
    • Recording pen allows evaluation of pen as a risk factor for disease where relevant (primarily mastitis and diseases causing lameness).

Record that information in the Same ORDER for every episode of disease recorded.

This makes it possible for a computer to parse out the information from all disease episodes recorded for all cows.  If the computer is told treatment information is first and quarter information is second it must always be that way.  This is another reason for recording “no treatment (NT)” when a treatment is given, it acts as a ‘space holder’ for treatment information maintaining the expected order of information.

Use the Same ABBREVIATIONS for every episode of disease recorded.

If records are to be efficiently summarized and evaluated via computer, the same abbreviations must always be used.  For example many dairies records the reason a cow died and often use ‘?’ to indicate the cause of death in unknown.  However, sometimes ‘??’ or ‘???’ or ‘?????’ is entered.  To the human mind they all register as a question mark (though some might consider the number of question marks to indicate the degree of uncertainty as to why the cow died), but to a computer each entry is different.

  • Use 2-3 letter abbreviations, as these are more easily recognized than single letter abbreviations.
  • Limit use of punctuation and spaces, if used be consistent, but otherwise they take up valuable space in a remark and often don’t contribute much to understanding the information in the remark.
  • Record ‘no treatment (NT)’ so the treatment choice is clear and the information order is preserved.
  • If a cow receives no treatment because she is going to be culled immediately, record ‘Beef (BF)’ instead of NT.  This will allow accurate comparison of removals associated with cows that you elected to keep but give no treatment for that clinical episode (ex. A case of clinical mastitis with a no growth milk culture result).

Dairy Health Management Assessments

A guide to understanding the diagnosis, treatment and recording of the major diseases of dairy cattle on the farm


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