Developing Role Models for Antibiotic Stewardship and Biosecurity on Dairy Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $125,145.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Ron Wohrle
Tacoma Pierce County Health Dept

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed additives, preventive practices, probiotics, vaccines
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, study circle, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: risk management
  • Pest Management: disease vectors, prevention, sanitation
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, sustainability measures


    This project aimed to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics by promoting a group of dairy producers to become role models for antibiotic stewardship and biosecurity in Washington State. We engaged eight dairy producers and their veterinarians in creating, implementing, and evaluating individualized antibiotic stewardship and biosecurity plans aimed at ensuring appropriate antibiotic use and infection control on the farm. Additionally, we developed standardized assessment tools and best practices resources, which we distributed to all dairy producers in Washington State. Finally, we worked with several key stakeholders in Washington to promote the diffusion of project results to the wider dairy industry.

    Project objectives:

    Objective 1: Create, implement, and evaluate individualized Antibiotic Stewardship and Biosecurity Plans on six to ten dairy farms, aimed at ensuring appropriate antibiotic use and biosecurity procedures. Educate participating dairy operators about the importance of and methods for preserving the efficacy of antibiotics.

    Target: Six producers will participate in developing stewardship plans.

    Performance: Target exceeded; eight producers developed stewardship plans.

    Target: Four producers will implement at least 50% of the recommended practices in the stewardship plans within the first nine months.

    Performance: This target was difficult to measure. In developing the plans, producers were offered a menu of goals to which they assigned priority levels. Some producers were offered more than ten possible goals to work toward. It would have been unrealistic to expect that all goals be completed, as most of the goals involved some investment of time and/or money; rather, we asked the producers to assign a priority to each and then work in step-wise fashion on the top goals. Some producers worked on their top goals, while others ended up actually working on goals that initially were given a low priority.

    Deciding which goals to include in this performance measure was, thus, subjective. In addition, assessing implementation was difficult, as it was unclear how to count partial implementation of a broad goal or the selection of an alternative solution to a problem. In looking only at goals assigned a priority level of one to three (on a scale of one to ten), counting substantial or full implementation or the use of an alternative solution, then six of the eight farms implemented at least 50% of the recommended practices within the first nine months of the project. By this measure the target was met.

    Examples of recommendations included: use milk replacer not containing antibiotics, refrigerate waste milk to be fed to calves, improve pen hygiene or fly control, isolate new additions to the herd for 30 days, culture milk from all cases of mastitis, and discard vials of expired or unapproved antibiotics.

    The eight participants undertook a total of 54 recommended changes (average of 6.75 per farm), with certain changes being recommended for all farms such as establishing written treatment protocols, obtaining written veterinary prescription labels on vials of all prescription & extra-label uses of over-the-counter antibiotics, and keeping written or computerized records of all drugs administered. At the final assessment, 24 recommendations had been completely implemented (average 3 per farm), 12 had been partially implemented with continuing activity (average of 1.5 per farm), and 7 had been addressed with an alternate solution. The remaining 11 recommendations had been partially implemented but then halted or reversed without completion.

    Target: The final assessments will demonstrate overall increases in knowledge, application of biosecurity practices, use of protocols for disease management, documentation of antibiotic use and disease occurrence, participation by the herd veterinarian in antibiotic use decisions; and decreases in the use of non-recommended antibiotics.

    Performance: We were able to complete in-person, on-farm final assessments on seven of the eight participating farms. Although we knew that the eighth farm had implemented several recommended changes, this producer was minimally engaged in the project and declined to participate in the final on-farm assessment. Of the seven farms that we were able to assess at the end of the project, the changes from the baseline assessment were:
    -All seven had implemented new procedures or improved existing procedures to control or prevent infections such as biosecurity measures, improved pen hygiene, enhancing calf immunity, isolating animals coming onto the farm, and routine hoof-trimming;
    -Two had adopted disease treatment protocols;
    -All seven had improved documentation of drug treatments and disease occurrence;
    -At least six had increased involvement of the herd veterinarian;
    -All seven had decreased their use of non-recommended and/or extra-label antibiotics.

    In addition, five farms increased the use of or implemented new diagnostic procedures, which can help better target antibiotics. We did not systematically test participants’ knowledge at the start of the project and therefore could not evaluate changes in knowledge.

    Objective 2: Develop an Antibiotic Stewardship and Biosecurity Assessment Tool and Model Plan for distribution to dairy producers in the Northwest.

    Performance: We developed a set of three Antibiotic Stewardship and Biosecurity Assessment Tools. Each tool is a self-administered questionnaire that producers can use to identify good stewardship practices as well as areas for improvement, and to determine their level of stewardship. The three tools represent basic, intermediate, and advanced levels of antibiotic stewardship.

    After consulting with members of our Advisory Board, including potential users of our final educational products, we decided that a Model Plan as initially envisioned would be redundant with the assessment tools. Instead, we created a best practices resource to accompany each level of the assessment tool, describing the benefits of each recommended practice and providing information on implementation and links to additional resources.

    A packet containing the three Antibiotic Stewardship and Biosecurity Assessment Tools and three Best Practices Resource Guides, along with an instruction sheet and cover letter was sent to all known dairy producers in Washington State in November 2008.

    Thus, this goal was met with one modification.

    Objective 3: Promote the diffusion of antibiotic stewardship and biosecurity concepts from the participating farms to the wider industry.

    Target: Participants will demonstrate a commitment to promoting antibiotic stewardship and biosecurity in the dairy industry, evidenced by speaking at industry meetings or other channels.

    Performance: The objective was partially accomplished during the project, but will continue to be addressed after the project ends, although through a different means than anticipated.

    Project participants attended two small group meetings that involved primarily producers who were in the project. They were reluctant to speak at larger industry meetings. They reported that they sometimes discussed what they have learned through the project with neighboring dairy producers in casual settings if the topic comes up, but they are unwilling to initiate such discussions or speak in public. We were unable to document these informal discussions and therefore are unable to provide a clear measure of performance. The participants’ commitment to speaking was disappointing. However, we believe that the changes participating producers have made on their farms will ultimately have an impact by contributing to awareness of antibiotic resistance, which, combined with activities of other organizations and reports in the media including farm journals, should continue to increase.

    This disappointing outcome was offset by an unanticipated commitment from the Director of Veterinary Medicine Extension at Washington State University, Dr. Dale Moore, to disseminate the results. Our work on the participating farms allowed us to develop a better understanding of the practicality of implementing widely recommended best practices. We worked closely with Dr. Moore to combine what we had learned with the scientific literature and accepted best practices to create tools for producers to use to assess their level of antibiotic stewardship. Dr. Moore, who has published many studies on antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in cattle, intends to use the Assessment Tools we created as a basis for her work promoting antibiotic stewardship with dairy producers and dairy veterinarians in Washington State.

    Objective 4: Investigate the feasibility of developing an Antibiotic Stewardship Certification Program to ensure the sustainability of this effort and to disseminate it beyond the participating farms.

    Performance: We engaged in discussions with the Executive Director of the Washington State Dairy Federation (WDSF), Jay Gordon, regarding antibiotic stewardship certification. Almost every dairy producer in Washington is a member of WSDF, which provides substantial leadership and representation to the industry. WSDF has worked with our agency and actively promoted the judicious use of antibiotics since 2002. In 2008 WSDF received a USDA grant to work in collaboration with the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association to create the Northwest Sustainable Dairy Program. This program will develop and promote industry standards in environmental conservation, animal care and welfare, milk quality, energy conservation, and labor relations. Mr. Gordon’s vision is that all dairies in Washington State will meet minimum standards in all these area, and he is committed to incorporating antibiotic stewardship into the animal care and welfare standards for Washington State farms, using the three stewardship levels developed by our project. Methods for auditing farms for compliance with standards have yet to be developed.

    Although the NW Sustainable Dairies Program might not become a full-fledged certification program, it should promote the adoption of many standards including antibiotic stewardship standards. We determined that certification for antibiotic stewardship alone would be difficult to accomplish. It would require the creation of a certifying agency along with market research and public education. It could be difficult to convince retail outlets such as grocery stores to accept a new category of milk – antibiotic stewardship milk – in addition to organic and conventional milk.

    This objective was simply to investigate the feasibility of a certification program; it was obviously beyond the scope of the project to actually implement such a program. By engaging in dialogue on this topic, however, we promoted the incorporation of antibiotic stewardship standards into the NW Sustainable Dairies Program, which might be a more practical alternative to a certification program.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.