This Wisconsin Producer Describes ‘Judicious Antibiotic Use’ on Her Dairy

Heidi Fischer

Heidi Fischer, partner and calf manager at a Wisconsin dairy farm, was recognized as the grand prize winner of a pharmaceutical company’s recognition program. Boeheringer Ingelheim’s Producers for Progress competition evaluated 31 dairies for “judicious use of antibiotics.” In this article, she describes the ‘best management practices’ used at her Fischer-Clark Dairy Farm, Inc., located near Hatley in Wisconsin’s Marathon County. The information in part appears on her contest application.


For more information, listen to the DairyVoice podcast featuring Heidi along with Dr. Linda Tikofsky, senior associate director of dairy professional services for B-I. It can be found here or at the end of this article.


Heidi Fischer

Our dairy was started in 1972 with eight cows by my father-in-law and mother-in-law, Mike and Sue Fischer, and they are still involved today. Growth has been a constant. We went from a tie-stall barn to a retro-fitted double-eight parlor, to the new double-20 we installed in 2015, currently milking 915 cows. Our cows maintain a rolling herd average of 32,651 lbs. milk 4.25% fat and 3.25% protein, all while averaging a somatic cell count below 100,000 each month.

The facilities have been updated to match the growth of our herd, with a focus on efficiency. We recently added a tunnel-ventilated barn to complement the existing naturally ventilated barn that now both house milking cows.

A new heifer facility was constructed in 2012 and expanded on in 2015 in preparation for the latest milking herd growth in 2016. A new calf barn was constructed in 2017, doubling the size of the current one. And a new young-stock heifer facility was built in 2018.

Jon (son/partner) started farming with his parents after high school, while I, Jon’s wife and farm partner joined the farm in 2014 to be more available for our two young daughters.

Focus on Cow Comfort and Disease Prevention

On our farm, we believe in a proactive, preventative approach to the well-being of our animals. From our vaccination protocol to the design and management of our barns, to the employee training meetings we hold to the technology we use (activity and rumination collars, being one example) all play a critical role in the success of our farm.

We work closely with our veterinarian to review our vaccination protocol annually to ensure that we are vaccinating the animals at the most opportune times, but also giving the booster (when needed) at key times. We believe that the vaccinations not only keep the heifer/cow healthy and productive but the antibodies that are passed on to the calf through maternal colostrum is very important as well.

Vaccinations prevent a wide array of diseases that can have a large financial impact on the farm, but more importantly, have a negative impact on the animal – both in its overall health but production potential as well. We manage the vaccine protocol by ensuring we are not over-vaccinating, or over-handling the animal, which can induce unnecessary stress to the animals.

We also use technology on our farm to fine tune our vaccination methods. For example, certain vaccines are labeled to be given in the muscle or under the skin (subcutaneously). We previously gave these vaccines in the muscle and observed the cows had strong drops in rumination in the following 24 hours after vaccination. We switched to giving these vaccinations subcutaneously and now the cows do not drop in rumination after vaccination as much as they used to.  The cows seem to be more comfortable and bounce back in milk production faster too.

Using practices that decrease stress and discomfort for our animals is good for animal care and the business. We pride ourselves on our animal husbandry and continually reflect on animal handling protocols to ensure that we are partaking in the best possible practices with animal well-being first and foremost.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develops the ability to survive exposure to antibiotics, making it difficult or impossible to treat infections in people or animals. It is a growing concern in society today, with many fearing a “post–antibiotic era” where common infections become life threatening. Locations that frequently use antibiotics like hospitals, long–term care facilities, feedlots and crop production areas have been criticized for the overuse of antibiotics, resulting in less–effective treatments.

Recently the 2019 Antibiotic Resistance Threats Report was issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  During a news briefing, CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D., noted that antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi cause more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

“Simply, here’s what works,” Dr. Redfield writes. “Preventing infections protects everyone. Improving antibiotic use in people and animals slows the threat and helps preserves today’s drugs and those yet to come. Detecting threats and implementing interventions to keep germs from becoming widespread saves lives.

Our barns are designed with total cow comfort in mind. Deep sand bedding, ample bunk space, recycled second-use water, as well as tunnel and naturally ventilated barns with the addition of push fans provide additional air flow be needed.



We sort our cows based on which lactation they are on, as well as how far along they are in their lactation. Size of the animal is also taken into consideration, especially early lactation cows, when determining pen placement as it is important that our cows are met with fair competition at the feed bunk, waterer, and stalls to allow for continual growth and production throughout each lactation.

Our herdsperson closely monitors animal counts per pen to make sure we are not overcrowding the pens which is critical to the overall wellness, longevity and productivity of the animal.

We routinely hold employee meetings to help explain the “whys” in what we do. We have held meetings to cover the use of oxytocin and to identify only the cows that need it and when to use it, as well as how to properly move cows, both to and from the parlor but also how to handle a down cow safely and humanely. Safety for the animal and the employee is very important to a successful and efficiently ran parlor.

We’ve done a group udder dissection to go over the physiological design of an udder and how to best prevent and treat mastitis. We have an outline for each meeting that we follow to ensure there is proper education on the selected topic, comments or questions are answered, items needing repair or replacement can be noted, and we always conclude each meeting by going over and reviewing the milking procedure. We firmly believe and stress that education paves the way for success; not only for the farm and animals, but more importantly, for personal employee satisfaction, success, and development.

Mastitis Detection and Treatment Protocols.

We test our milk monthly and use the data from each test period to identify cows with subclinical mastitis to culture. From our culture results, we work with our veterinarian to determine which cows to treat and with which antibiotic and duration. Our DairyComp305 program has a report built in based on our farm’s parameters to identify cows that have over a 400,000 SCC (somatic cell count) and those that are chronic, meaning two or more test periods of high SCC count. The report only identifies cows that are 40 days or greater in lactation. From there we filter out the do not breeds (DNBs), cows that are greater than 180 days carrying calf (as they will receive dry cow treatment in the next 30 days) and those that have shown a decrease in SCC month over last, but are still greater than 400,000 SCC, are watched to see if they make the list for the third month.

The list of cows is narrowed down to identify those that fit these parameters and then we make the list of cows – identify which pens they are in and go to the parlor during the next milking period to begin the protocol. Cows that are identified are documented on a spreadsheet to monitor cows, treatments, and outcomes. We first CMT each quarter to identify if there is infection in any of the quarters, if there is, the quarter is disinfected and a milk sample is taken from that quarter into a milk collection tube where it is dated and labeled with the cow number and quarter. Multiple quarters can be identified and cultured.

From there the milk collection tubes are taken to our herdsman’s office where we place a small sample on a Tri-plate, invert it, and place it in an incubator at 37 degrees Celsius for 48-hours. After the first 24-hours we can identify if there is any infection present and what kind but we additionally incubate the plates for 24-hours to detect any slow growing organisms such as yeast, prototheca, and trueperalla. Any findings are confirmed with the herd veterinarian and documented on the sheet.

The goal is to identify trends and treatment successes and failures. We want to make sure that our treatment protocols are working to improve milking performance and prevent more serious health problems like toxic mastitis. Our focus for this culture lab is to determine the gram-positive cows, that require antibiotic treatment, versus the gram-negative and no- growth cows that can self-cure with time or minimal intervention, not requiring antibiotic therapy. This is often unidentifiable by visually looking at a cow or milk from a quarter.  Our culture lab has given us the opportunity to fine tune our mastitis detection and treatment protocols by analyzing and utilizing relevant data to only culture cows that fit our criteria mentioned above.



judicious Antibiotic use for the Treatment of Mastitis

Judicious antibiotic use for mastitis means preventing as many cases of mastitis as possible through good husbandry and comfort, vaccinations, and parlor protocols.  We are proud to have a very low bulk tank SCC and low incidence of clinical mastitis (<5%).  Judicious use also means using antibiotics only for the mastitis cases that are likely to respond to treatment. We use monthly SCC test results to detect subclinical mastitis and are strategic about which cows get cultured and which get treated. We believe in giving a cow time to fight infections herself, which is why she has to have two continuous months of recording a high somatic cell count (SCC), than be CMT-paddled, and then cultured to identify if she is carrying an infection, identify the type of infection to determine which type of antibiotic treatment would best treat the animal.  The cow has to be less than 180-days carrying calf. A cow greater than 180-days carrying calf would be eligible to receive dry-cow treatment in the next 30-days, which can have a treatment-effect on the cow that is showing a high SCC or the potential for mastitis. Our strategies for preventing mastitis and being selective about which animals get treated with antibiotics balance judicious use of antibiotics with the need to provide good animal care and improve animal productivity.

More Management Considerations with Antibiotics

We are conscientious about our treatment protocols and use of antibiotics. We do an annual treatment protocol review with our herd veterinarian to improve our treatment protocols. We strive to follow drug labels accurately and dose medications appropriately for individual animals. For example, we dose per the size of the animal in pounds, not cc per head.  Additionally, we try to stay away from medications that are closely related to drugs important to human health, such as enrofloxacin (Baytril).

Lastly, when we have new disease challenges or outbreaks on the farm, we consult our veterinarian and pursue diagnostic testing. During a recent diarrhea outbreak, out veterinarian did a farm walk-through and took samples to test to help us determine what preventive and treatment actions to take to slow down the outbreak. The samples showed us we had an outbreak of Salmonella cerro and sensitivity testing identified which antibiotic we should use to treat more severe cases.  Rather than guessing as to what antibiotic to treat severe cases with, we had accurate lab information to guide us. We believe it is responsible to use diagnostic testing such as this when faced with a new disease challenge or outbreak.

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