Johne’s Testing

Request a Johne’s test on your next herd test if you have not already done so!

It is that time in the season that is the most opportune moment to perform a whole herd screen Johne’s test to find positive cows.  Removing these cows now saves on the costs of wintering them and reduces the chances of infection in the biggest risk period during calving.

Cows infected with Johne’s generally do not perform well over the challenge of transition and calving, and it is often enough to tip them over the edge and they deteriorate clinically.  In one case study performed by LIC, a third of cows testing high positive had died on farm during the calving period.  Cows testing positive are more likely to leave the herd by dying on farm than going to the works, compared with cows testing negative.

Any cows which test positive, should be retested with a blood test to confirm the identity of that cow.  In a season where reproductive results have been strong, there may be more flexibility to remove cows from the herd which test positive.  It may well aid culling decisions, looking at SCC, udder conformation and mobility, if Johne’s status is known also.  It is also becoming common practice for buyers to request a Johnes test before purchasing cows.

LIC Johne’s Dashboard Development

LIC are currently developing a dashboard, via MINDA, to better display and manage Johne’s positive cows within the herd, based on historic and current Johne’s results on farm.  It is currently in a trial period at the moment, but from what we have seen it is looking to be useful tool to help visualise the extent of a JD problem on each farm. Particularly interesting is showing which cohorts have been most at risk to infection, and benchmarking compared with national average.


It is still in a prototype phase, but may well prove to be an important tool in seasons to come. Watch this space.

Below is a extract, taken from LIC’s website, about the importance of testing and showing how missing a year’s testing can cause Johne’s prevalence to resurge.

Prevalence of JD positive and high positive results in herds testing with LIC 2013-2023

* Note this is industry median data so may not predict what may happen on individual farms.

Key takeouts from this graph:

  • Farms that had six consecutive annual tests made the most progress in terms of reducing prevalence (3.3% to 1.3% over the five years since their first test).
  • Herds that missed two annual tests within this same period tended to have a rebound in prevalence (from their initial starting point, a median of 2.80% to their lowest median prevalence of 1.71% after three years to 1.96% after five years).
  • Median prevalence rebounded in herds that missed four annual tests to levels close to those identified when testing started (2.94% at year 0 to 2.04% after three years to 3.07% after five years).


Interpreting the results

The Johne’s ELISA is a very specific test – which means if a cow tests positive we know she is positive.  However, sensitivity is poor, which means if a cows tests negative, it does not necessarily mean she isn’t infected with Johne’s disease.  In any case, culling positive cows is the best way to make big leaps in managing Johne’s.

Below is a summary table explaining what each individual result means.

Testing and culling cows is of course only part of the solution. Management of the disease on farm will help mitigate spread. Below are some good resources available discussing management options, and further information on testing.



Dairy NZ Johne’s Disease Management –

Dairy NZ Johne’s Laboratory Testing –

LIC Johne’s Herd Test –

Managing Calf Scours

Towards the end of August scouring calves become more common. It is likely that this is because the pathogen load in the calf pens has risen at the same time that colostral antibodies are declining.

There is a risk period between about 1 and 4 weeks of age when antibodies from colostrum ingested in the first day (passive immunity) has declined but that from exposure to pathogens (active immunity) is not yet optimal.


If only a few calves are scouring, it is worth isolating these in a sick pen. If more become sick, it is best to leave the calves where they are. One teaspoon of rotavirus scour can infect thousands of calves so if the cause is infectious, it is likely all calves in the pen have already been exposed. It is still a good idea to put calves that are worse affected in a small pen together as they can be treated and monitored better than in a big group. If left together ad lib electrolytes will often be drunken by the healthy calves with the ones that need it more missing out.

Avoid overcrowding pens. If pens must be reused, consider replacing or topping up the bedding. Keep hay feeders high so hay stays clean and calves are not eating off the ground. Clean water troughs daily. This will help reduce the spread of disease and encourage water intake.


Electrolytes and feeding:

. Scours cause loss of fluids and body salts leading to dehydration. Electrolytes are the main treatment for scouring calves. Below is a treatment protocol for calves with mild to moderate scours.

Scouring calves should continue to be fed milk if they are willing to drink it. Weight loss will be less than if fed electrolytes alone and recovery faster.

Warm milk will encourage sick calves to drink.

It is recommended that scouring calves are fed milk twice a day with electrolytes in between.

Unwell, scouring calves are less likely to want to drink one larger feed and will receive more nutrition if fed twice.

It is best not to tube milk to scouring calves – if a calf refuses to drink milk, replace that milk feed with an extra electrolyte one. If they are still refusing to drink after 48 hours, consult your vet.

Tubing electrolytes is fine, and often necessary.

Use a high quality electrolyte such as Enerlect.



Scouring calves often feel miserable. Rheumocam (1ml/40kg under the skin) reduces fever and inflammation and will help get the calf back drinking again.

Talk to your vet if you are having scours in your calves. They can provide further advice on managing the outbreak and test samples to see what pathogen/s are involved. This will help determine if additional treatments are needed and will help with strategies for prevention in the future.

The risk period makes preventing scours challenging, however colostrum management in the first 12 hours of life is still the number one factor in preventing scours or reducing the severity of illness.

Calves that have a higher initial peak in colostral antibodies will take longer to decline and will be less severely affected if infected. Ensure every calf receives 4-6L of 22% + brix tested colostrum within 6-12 hours of birth. Organise calf blood testing with your vet annually to check that colostrum managements is working on your farm.


Multimin has New Zealand data to show that calves injected with 1ml at birth have a 50% reduction in the risk of disease and death until weaning. Optiguard is a pathogen binder that may help prevent and minimize the severity of scours. Vaccinating with Rotavec or Scourguard will boost antibody levels to Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E.coli in colostrum. Continuing to feed fresh or preserved transition milk for as long as possible, especially from vaccinated cows will help ‘mop up’ pathogens in the gut as it passes through.


Leptospirosis is a common and important infectious disease in New Zealand. Infected animals can pass it on to humans through their urine or any urine contaminated water. It is seen mostly in farm workers and people who work in meat processing plants. Symptoms in humans include fever, chills, vomiting and diarrhoea and it can progress into Weil’s disease which is a serious health risk. Not only is it very important as it can affect us, but it can also be a cause of production loss on your farm. It can cause different problems in cows including mastitis, abortions, kidney disease and stillbirths.  This commonly manifests as a cause of poor fertility in herds. Cows can also become carriers and still shed infection in their urine, making it an unseen risk to staff. 

The best way to control Leptospirosis on farm is through vaccination. Cows and R2s should be vaccinated around dry off and R1s can be vaccinated from late summer to autumn so that they coincide with herd vaccination in future years. The Leptoshield vaccine comprises 2 vaccinations 4-6 weeks apart. This should be given to calves and any stock on farm with unknown vaccination history. An annual booster is then all that is required to ensure your animals are protected. Calves can be vaccinated from as early as 4 weeks of age with 7 in 1 (2 vaccinations as calves with a booster now).

Other methods of control include vermin control as it can be spread from rats, hedgehogs, possums and other farm animals in their urine. Ways of protecting yourself and workers include ensuring protective clothing and gloves are worn at all times. If you have any queries about leptospirosis on your farm and need any further advice in regard to vaccination schedules, please do not hesitate to call in to have a chat with one of our vets. We have resources we can use for staff training and certification of lepto use for your farm.