Dairy vets provide biosecurity advice to prepare farmers

Pregnancy check on a dairy cow
Pregnancy check on a dairy cow at Triple T farm. From left Dr. Eric Gordon, Dr. Megan Moran and vet students Jona Fletcher and Maria Rutan. (Melissa Weber photo)

WEST LIBERTY, Ohio — The sun is rising on a dairy operation in Logan County, Ohio, and veterinarian Eric Gordon’s arm is up to his shoulder in the back end of a cow. He reads the portable ultrasound via goggles while veterinary students from Ohio State University watch the image using an iPad.

Jerrod Henry, partner at Henry Farms, reads from a clipboard and tells Dr. Gordon which cow needs a pregnancy check. Gordon typically administers the “P1 check” 28 to 36 days after insemination. He confirms the cow is pregnant and the fetus is growing normally.

At Henry Farms, P1 checks receive a vaccination for leptospirosis to help prevent abortion. If a cow that was bred didn’t conceive, a different injection brings her back to estrus, so Henry or his herdsman can re-breed.

There are other ways to determine if a cow is pregnant besides the physical exam, of course. Many farmers only call their veterinarian in an emergency, but Henry considers Gordon to be a vital partner in their dairy operation. Gordon provides regular diet and nutrition advice, as well as recommendations for disease prevention and treatments.

“Vaccination protocols change,” said Henry. “We work hand-in-hand with him on most things.”

Working together

Henry manages the dairy operation at Henry Farms with his father, Mark. His uncle and cousins farm 4,000 acres of soybeans and corn. His grandfather purchased the farm in 1959. They have always maintained a working relationship with a local veterinarian, and Henry appreciates regular visits with Gordon.

Gordon appreciates working with Henry, as well. “We are one of the expenses that has to be worked into the margins,” he said. “We can’t come out for every single sick cow and honestly we don’t have time. But we provide the protocol and treatment for them to administer.”

Gordon is the Medical Director of the Marysville Large Animal Services in Union County, a remote clinic of the Ohio State Veterinary Medical Center, located in Columbus, Ohio. From the Marysville clinic, veterinarians serve farms in 17 counties in west-central Ohio.

The veterinarians rarely travel alone. All Ohio State veterinary students complete at least one two-week rotation in large animal medicine, working at the Marysville clinic.


Biosecurity is the reason Gordon visits dozens of dairy farms each week. It’s a critical, yet often underappreciated role veterinarians play. He works with farmers and herdsmen and often suggests minor changes. Much of his advice is focused on ways to prevent the spread of disease.

For example, Gordon recommends using calf hutches, or plastic stall walls in barns, which are easier to clean and disinfect. Most infectious diseases of calves are respiratory or diarrheal, and open fencing between stalls allows calves to lick each other and be nose-to-nose.

“But, open fencing provides better airflow, which can also be an advantage,” he added.

Gordon believes many farms should strengthen their biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. It could be a matter of life or death for more than just one animal.

Take for example the current bird flu outbreak in the U.S. More than 79 million birds have been killed as a result of the outbreak that began in February 2022. In Ohio, more than 4.5 million birds in five commercial flocks have been destroyed in the past month.

Gordon said the U.S. is fortunate to have avoided foot-and-mouth disease for nearly 100 years. Many vets and farmers remember the devastating 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom, which caused the destruction of more than 4 million animals, mostly cows and sheep.

According to the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, the last outbreak in the US was in California in 1929. The USDA bans the import of animals and animal products from known infected areas to prevent foot-and-mouth disease from spreading in the U.S. again. Travelers from affected areas must disinfect their shoes. At Ohio State’s Veterinary Medical Center, visitors who have traveled internationally within the past two weeks may not enter the large animal treatment area.

“I’ve heard more than one infectious disease expert say, ‘It’s not a matter of if but when,’” said Gordon. While he discourages worrying, he encourages prevention strategies.

Veterinary partnership

For Henry Farms, Gordon and the students provide weekly herd health checks. The second pregnancy check, P2, takes place at around 60 days gestation to make certain the pregnancy is still viable. At that check, Gordon can usually determine the sex of the fetus via ultrasound. He checks for infections following calving, as well.

“Vets can play a crucial role [in dairy enterprises],” Gordon said. “We customize treatment and vaccine protocols individually for each farm. We work with them to help them learn to diagnose and treat properly.”

Typically, the herdsman or other on-farm personnel manage treatments he recommends.

“They value our advice,” Gordon said, then smiled. “Well, not every time. But we have good discussions.”

“Having an outside expert to lean on is vital,” Henry said.

Find an Accredited Veterinarian

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s “Find an Accredited Veterinarian” tool can help you locate a veterinarian near your farm. Visit vsapps.aphis.usda.gov/vsps/public/VetSearch.do if you need the assistance of an accredited veterinarian.


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