Recording Health Data
Health Event Tracking to Make Deliberate Decisions on Your Dairy Farm
It's important to realize that dairy cows don't get better naturally. We get used to performance always improving because it has essentially been like that for our lifetime. However, there is no guarantee that production will continue to improve without deliberate decisions. The action required on our part is to collect information that will help drive deliberate decisions—decisions based on real data.

Why Record Health Data?

Manage Treatments for the Well-being and Health of the Animal
Keeping track of treatments and health events does not mean you will have fewer problems, but will help when corrections need to be made. With good health records and consistent analysis protocols, event trends can be identified faster and therefore corrections can be made sooner. This will help to minimize loss of production and cull rates.

Record Health Data for Genetic Evaluations - Improve the Future of Your Herd
Whether or not you are doing genetic evaluations, the collecting that information on your computer and sharing it to a national database will help to improve the data you have available to your business. To do that, you just have to authorize your data to flow between your software and national organizations.

Next the information you record needs to be in a standardized format so that information can easily be transmitted. The advantage of standardizing the information is that it is easier to analyze on a whole herd basis. 

Protect Your Business and Meet FDA Requirements
When drug residue enters the food supply the most common reason the FDA cites following an investigation is failure to maintain complete treatment records. If an investigator were to visit your farm, having good health records will help protect your dairy by showing diligence in maintaining health records.

Complete treatment records include the following:

  • Animal ID
  • Disease Treated
  • Drug Given
  • Milk and Meat Withholding Times
  • Dosage of Drug Given
  • Treatment Date
  • Individual who gave the Drug

Watch a DHI-Plus Demonstration on Recording Health Data

Future Proof Your Records

In 2018, the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) began releasing health traits as part of the official release of genetic and genomic evaluations. Net Merit $ and the other lifetime profit indices have been revised to factor in disease resistance and to update the economic values used in calculations. The CDCB selected six of the most common, costly health events impacting dairy cattle. The health traits are:

  • Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever)
  • Displaced Abomasum
  • Ketosis
  • Mastitis
  • Metritis
  • Retained Placenta

The traits defined as disease resistance traits, are designed to help predict animals that are more resistant to health events. The CDCB health evaluations will be presented as percentage points above or below the breed average of event resistance.

For example, evaluations of cows born in the base year will average zero. Favorable values for resistance to the health event will result in a positive value. Assuming the resistance to clinical mastitis is 90%, which represents a 10% incidence rate. If a bull has a PTA equal to +3.0 for mastitis resistance, daughters of that bull would on average be more resistant to mastitis by 3 percentage points more than the population average.

For this information to be as accurate as possible, animal health evaluations have to be submitted by the community on a regular basis. Producers recording this information and actively reporting health events on-farm is a critical component to developing a national database.

Ultimately what does genetic selection for health traits mean for the individual dairy farmer? It could mean hundreds of dollars saved on reducing treatments and lost production. Sire selection for these new health traits will lower occurrence of these illnesses over time reducing the costs associated with the treatment.


How Will Analyzing Health Data Now Benefit Your Dairy?

The most common use of health records on a dairy is usually done one cow at a time. This is done to evaluate whether an individual cow should be removed from the herd by evaluating how many health problems an individual cow has experienced. Depending on data entry methods and priority of the particular cow, the recording of that data may be inconsistent from one cow to another. And depending on the reason a cow was removed from a herd, the final health event may not have been recorded at all.

Though this type of information is important, it does not help answer questions about the health management of a herd. Knowing the number of cases of mastitis that led to a group of cows leaving the herd requires statistics that are consistent among that group of cows.

Accurate and consistent health records help you answer questions for the entire herd and help you evaluate your management practices to make sure that not only are individual cows treated properly, but that protocols for the whole herd are effective.

If you see an increase of new disease episodes, in general are your disease prevention practices working? Of those cases that are treated, are your treatment protocols effective and have they reduced the recurrence of the disease?

Routine analysis of whole herd reports help provide hard evidence to effectively evaluated protocols and practices that have been established by management.

Tracking Health Records With DHI-Plus

You can view a demonstration of recording treatments and viewing health records with DHI-Plus below.

The following information is to provide details about how DHI-Plus can help you track certain health events more thoroughly.


HubSpot Video


Health Count Reports

Do you want to know how many mastitis incidents there are in the herd? Do you want to find the possible cull cows because of a large number of treatments for transition diseases?

Health Counts provide this data in a custom report. Health Counts are a way to count the number of health and disease-related items in your herd.

For another look at how to use health count reports, take a look at this blog article: Invisible Cows in Your Herd? (it includes a Video Demonstration)


Recording Calving Livability Data

Sire genetic evaluation summaries are being done for both Calving Ease and Calf Livability. Many dairies only record calving difficulty data. We are encouraging dairies to also record calf livability data. If more livability data is recorded, it could be a real benefit to you in the selection of breeding sires.

Calving Ease information can be recorded in the DHI-Plus system in one of two styles:

  • One value—calving difficulty only
  • Four values—calving difficulty, size, livability, and condition.

When recording only the degree of calving difficulty, you only enter a number into the Calving Ease field according to the following values:

  • 1—No Problem
  • 2—Slight Problem
  • 3—Needed Assistance
  • 4—Considerable Force
  • 5—Extreme Difficulty

Complete Livability Calving Data

Preferably when entering calving ease data, you will enter the complete set of calving ease information according to the following categories:

  • Calving Difficulty
    • 1—No Problem
    • 2—Slight Problem
    • 3—Needed Assistance
    • 4—Considerable Force
    • 5—Extreme Difficulty
  • Calf Size
    • 1—Very Small
    • 2—Small
    • 3—Average
    • 4—Large
    • 5—Very Large
  • Calf Livability
    • 1—Alive
    • 2—Dead at Birth
    • 3—Dead by 48 Hours
  • Calf Condition
    • 1—Normal
    • 2—Weak
    • 3—Deformed

Some of the biggest financial drains on a modern dairy operation are calving complications. Heifers and cows that go through difficult calvings tend to have impaired health, fertility problems, and reduced production in the following lactation. Including these traits in genetic evaluations will help isolate genetic related instances of calving difficulty and stillbirth rates.

Accurate and complete reporting of complete calving ease data will benefit your operation now and in the future.

  • It will increase the accuracy of sire calving ease and daughter calving ease evaluations
  • It will allow the development of national stillbirth evaluations.
  • It will enhance your opportunities for better sire selection in the future.
Recording Treatments

Consistently Recording Health Data for Genetic Evaluations

Above we talked about the most common costly health events impacting dairy herds. When these health events are entered into the DHI-Plus system at the dairy or by a DHIA technician, they are automatically transmitted to the Amelicor processing center along with other operational data.

Health events can be entered in the DHI-Plus system in one of two styles:

  • Using standard CDCB health event codes
  • Using your own custom health event codes
Description Standard CDCB Code
Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever) MFEV
Displaced Abomasum DA
Ketosis KETO
Mastitis MAST
Metritis METR
Retained Placenta RETP

In order to most effectly take advantage of genetic evaluations, health event recording must be consistent. If you decide to use your own custom codes, using data entry macros with the DHI-Plus program can ensure that the health events are recorded consistently.

Another option to ensure the records are consistent is to use DHI-Plus health event code mapping. This takes the different ways the health event may have been recorded in the software and maps the codes to one consistent code for use in reporting, analyzing, and transmitting for genetic evaluations.

Here are a few article for more thoughts about recording genetics:

DHI-Plus Health Data Demo

HubSpot Video

Explore how DHI-Plus can enhance your ability to track health events

Would you like to see a demonstration of DHI-Plus or perhaps just talk more about ways to more efficiently record health events? Fill out the form below and we'll give you a call.