Dairy Australia - Dairy information for Australian Dairy Farmers and the industry

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Learn about the conditions, symptoms and treatment of conditions that may cause weight loss or failure to grow despite ample feed.

Weight loss or illthrift

Conditions that cause weight loss or failure to grow despite ample feed. How many animals are affected?

A single animal:

Several animals:

  • Copy Link Bovine Johnes disease

    Bovine Johne's Disease

    Bovine Johne's Disease (BJD) is a chronic, incurable disease of adult cattle caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium paratuberculosis. Symptoms include diarrhoea, reduced milk production, weight loss and eventually death. The disease is mainly spread through ingestion of contaminated faeces. Infection is usually acquired in calfhood but generally no clinical signs are seen until animals are at least four years old. It is difficult to reliably detect infection in live animals, particularly in the early stages of the disease.

    Preventing exposure of susceptible young calves, introducing only low-risk cattle and targeted testing and culling of animals to reduce shedding of Mycobacterium paratuberculosis into the environment are the keys to controlling spread in a herd.

    The Australian dairy industry is committed to controlling the spread and limiting the impact of BJD. Our vision is to increase awareness and understanding of this disease and to have all farmers implement measures to control the risks posed by BJD.

    Managing the risk in Australian dairy herds

    Understanding more about BJD and how to manage the risk is an first important step in dealing with the disease. Whether you want to be part of a formal control program or to just minimise the risks in your own herd, there are many things that can be done.

    More information

    These publications contain important information and guidelines for best practice:

    Dairy farm guidelines for BJD control: Best practice recommendations for managing bovine Johne'™s disease in Australian dairy herds (PDF, 1.1MB)

    A booklet for dairy farmers containing best practice recommendations for managing BJD in Australia.

    Dairy BJD Technotes: Best practice recommendations for managing bovine Johne's disease in Australian dairy herds (PDF, 4.1MB)

    A technical booklet for veterinarians and herd advisers discussing best practice recommendations for managing BJD in Australia.

    New approach to Bovine Johne's Disease (PDF, 144KB)

    Dairy strategies to manage BJD.

    BJD control programs for Australian dairy herds

    The control of BJD in Australia is implemented according to a strategic plan. The dairy industry is promoting the use of the National Dairy BJD Assurance Score and adoption of hygienic calf rearing practices through the 3-Step Calf Plan and/or the Johne'™s Disease Calf Accreditation Program (JDCAP).

    1. The 3-Step Calf Plan

    Limiting calf contact with adult cattle and sources of manure minimises the risk of BJD and many other diseases including calf scours. This is the basis of the 3-Step Calf Plan. Implementing the 3-Step Calf Plan is an excellent way to reduce the risk of BJD in a herd and improve the overall health of calves.

    3 step calf plan

    More information

    3 Steps to minimise BJD risk in your herd (PDF, 1167KB)

    All dairy companies have included the 3-Step Calf Plan in their on-farm quality assurance programs to support BJD control and good calf health. This brochure explains in more detail the three steps to minime BJD risk in your herd and other best practice recommendations.

    2. Johne's Disease Calf Accreditation Program (JDCAP)

    JDCAP is an audited calf rearing program designed to minimise the risk of spreading BJD in Victorian dairy herds, should it be present, from adult cattle to calves. Calves raised under an accredited rearing system have a lower risk of contracting BJD than non-accredited calves. More information is available from the Agriculture Victoria website.

    National Dairy BJD Assurance Score (Dairy Score)

    The Dairy Score allows dairy farmers to compare the risk of BJD in groups of cattle when they are buying or selling stock. A herd'™s Dairy Score takes into account the location of the herd and the BJD history of a property, including management practices, laboratory test results, enrolment in BJD assurance or control programs. Cattle with a higher Dairy Score are considered to be a lower risk of having BJD.

    Dairy Score FAQs

    More information

    What's the score with BJD? (PDF, 2364KB)

    This brochure provides an introduction to Dairy Score, and includes a reckoner which can be used  for individual animals.

    Pathways to progress with Bovine Johne's Disease (PDF, 1274KB)

    A technical booklet for veterinarians and herd advisers describing the National Dairy BJD Assurance Score with answers to frequently asked questions.

    Dairy BJD Assurance Score Declaration Form (PDF, 289KB)

    This form is used to to make an official declaration of your herd BJD Assurance Score.

    External links

    The following information may prove useful to understanding more about BJD and how it is being managed in Australia and overseas.

    Australian BJD information:

    International Links on BJD:

  • Copy Link Acute acidosis


    What to look for - ranges from serious acute disease to milder chronic form.

    Acute acidosis

    • Usually within 1 day of carbohydrate overload
    • May stop eating
    • May appear depressed
    • May be unstable if standing
    • Rumen is often distended (on left side)
    • Tapping left flank may produce splashing sounds
    • May have profuse diarrhoea with an offensive smell
    • May become dehydrated, lie down, and without prompt treatment, are likely to die

    Chronic acidosis

    • Usually a herd problem
    • Vague clinical signs Loss of appetite
    • Intermittent diarrhoea
    • Lower milk production
    • Depression


    Excess amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains or fruit. Rumen function is overloaded leading to increased acid in the rumen. Milder forms have a slower onset, but if not managed can lead to long term changes to the rumen.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Often seen in cows in early lactation. Typically seen after calving, especially in cows that have been fed on pasture during the dry period and the rumen has not had time to adapt to concentrate feeds.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    • Acute: infections, milk fever, mastitis or displaced abomasum, other causes of scours
    • Milder chronic forms: may resemble lead poisoning, listeriosis or polioencephalomalacia

    Confirming the diagnosis

    • Recent increase in consumption of grain or fruit
    • Test rumen fluid acidity (pH)


    Serious cases of acidosis need rapid treatment. In severe cases your vet can operate to remove the rumen contents and provide other supportive treatments to help get the rumen operating again and prevent infection. 

    Less severe cases may respond to treatment with magnesium products given by stomach tube. Afterwards it is important to feed good quality hay and ensure that animals do not have access to water until the next day. 

    Animals that have mild acidosis should be fed good quality hay and reduced amounts of concentrates. Watch them closely to ensure that any animals that are not improving can be treated more intensively.

    Risk factors

    • High carbohydrate feeds are not stored securely
    • Cattle introduced rapidly to diets containing high proportion of concentrates


    When introducing cattle to concentrates monitor them closely and check the consistency of their manure. 

  • Copy Link Malignant Catarrhal fever

    Malignant catarrhal fever

    What to look for

    There are 2 different forms of the disease.

    Head and eye form:

    • Usually occurs in single animals
    • Sudden onset of fever, depression, lack of appetite
    • A big drop in milk production in lactating cows
    • Copious discharges from the nostrils, red nose and cloudy eyes
    • May develop ulcers in the mouth
    • Affected animals generally die within a few days

    Gut form:

    • May affect individual animals or occur as an outbreak
    • Much milder changes to the nostrils, eyes and mouth seen
    • Animals rapidly develop profuse diarrhoea and die quickly


    Virus normally found in sheep without causing clinical signs of disease.

    Spread of the disease

    Most sheep are infected with the virus which is secreted in their nasal secretions. It is not clear how cattle become infected but the disease rarely occurs in cattle that do not have contact with sheep. Some cattle appear to become infected without showing any clinical signs but it is believed that there is no transfer of MCF virus between cattle.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Malignant Catarrhal Fever is an unusual condition that is most often seen in yearling animals. Wild and domesticated deer are also susceptible.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    May resemble some forms of Bovine Virus Diarrhoea mucosal disease (caused by bovine pestivirus) or exotic diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Any suspected case of MCF should be investigated by your vet to rule out the possibility of the Foot and Mouth Disease or other similar diseases that do not occur in this country.


    There is no treatment for MCF and so infected animals should be humanely killed.

    Risk factors

    Running sheep and cattle together. There is no vaccine for MCF and no specific preventive measures.

  • Copy Link Enzootic Bovine Leaucosis

    Enzootic bovine leucosis


    A national program has been very successful in eradicating the EBL virus from the Australian dairy herd.This virus is also known as Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV).

    What to look for

    • EBL can take many forms depending on what body systems are affected
    • Only about 1 in 20 infected animals show any evidence of the disease
    • Affected animals go off their feed and become weak and debilitated
    • Sometimes enlarged lymph nodes can be felt as lumps under the skin


    EBL is caused by a virus which infects white blood cells and persists for the life of the animal.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Adult beef animals. EBL occasionally occurs in animals as young as two years of age.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Cancers and other chronic diseases that cause weakness and weight loss in older animals.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Blood/milk test for the presence of specific antibodies.

    Spread of the disease

    The virus can be transmitted from infected cows to their unborn calves but it is usually spread between animals by tiny amounts of blood that can be exchanged during routine activities like vaccination, castration, ear tagging, dehorning, rectal examination or natural mating.

    A national program has been very successful in eradicating the disease from the Australian dairy herd. Confirmed freedom was declared in 2012.

    Some beef herds in Australia may still have a low level of EBL and it is important that farmers thinking of introducing beef bulls or other beef animals check to ensure that they are coming from properties free of the disease.

    Risks to people

    Any virus in raw milk is destroyed by pasteurisation.

    Risk factors

    • Introducing beef animals of unknown EBL status
    • Not isolating introduced animals until tested clear
    • Using unsterilised implements on the dairy herd that have previously been used for procedures on beef cattle such as ear tagging, castration or disbudding

  • Copy Link Liver Fluke

    Liver fluke


    What to look for

    • Weakness, anaemia, weight loss
    • Fluid accumulation under the jaw, known as œbottle jaw
    • Severely infected animals are depressed, anaemic and may have diarrhoea

    Cause - a liver parasite (Fasciola hepatica)

    Adult liver fluke are flat, oval organisms ~ 25mm long, that live in the bile ducts of cattle, sheep, goats and other animals. Liver fluke have a complicated life cycle:

    • adult fluke lay eggs that are passed out in cow manure
    • tiny larvae hatch out and infect a specific sort of snail
    • several life stages occur in the snail and then a tiny organism emerges and forms a cyst on a blade of grass
    • the cysts are then eaten by a cow , hatch into larvae and migrate around the body to the liver, where in large numbers they can damage the liver tissue
    • larvae reach the bile ducts and grow into adult liver fluke
    • damage to the bile ducts of the liver, causes loss of appetite, lower growth rates and reduced milk production

    Specific types of snail are critical to the distribution of liver fluke. These snails are found in areas that tend to be permanently damp such as irrigation channels or slow moving streams or springs. The snails can survive periods of drought but do not move very far from these permanently moist areas.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Young adult cattle are more susceptible, but liver fluke can occur in any age group especially if susceptible cattle are introduced into liver fluke-infested areas.

    Risks to people

    There is no risk from cattle. People have been infected with liver fluke by eating plants such as water cress from areas where the relevant snails are present.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    The location of the farm and the access of cattle to areas harbouring the specific types of snails should be considered. Cow manure and bulk milk can be laboratory tested to help determine if liver fluke are present in a herd but these tests are less accurate for individual animals.

    Risk factors

    • history of liver fluke in the area
    • presence of the intermediate host (relevant snail species)
    • access of cattle to permanently damp areas


    Liver fluke treatments should be chosen on the basis of the age of the affected animals, whether they are lactating and the stage of the disease. If liver fluke occurs on your farm, consult with your vet to devise a suitable liver fluke control program. Some flukicides may have milk withholding periods after treatment or be less effective against fluke larvae. If liver fluke is not causing serious disease in lactating cows it may be best to treat them after drying off. An effective strategy in some areas is to treat dry cows with a drug that is effective against both mature and immature fluke and then use another drug without a milk withholding period during lactation.

  • Copy Link Lumpy jaw

    Lumpy jaw


    What to look for

    • Hard lump on either an upper or lower jaw bone which is not painful in the early stages
    • Infection can invade soft tissues and cause distortion of the teeth
    • Loss of appetite and body condition
    • Pus is often seen to be draining from beneath the lump and, if examined closely, small (1-2mm diameter) light yellow granules can be seen

    Cause -“ a fungal infection (Actinomyces bovis)

    This fungus is normally present in the mouth of healthy animals but it may enter the jaw bone through an injury caused by such things as hard feed, foreign objects or injury to a tooth.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Adult cattle. Lumpy jaw is an unusual condition in Australia.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Woody tongue, abscesses, injuries or foreign bodies in the head and mouth region.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Characteristic appearance.

    Spread of the disease

    Not spread from animal to animal.

    Risks to people



    Veterinary treatment can be successful if there has not been too much damage to the bony tissues of the jaw. It may involve injecting sodium iodide into the vein or feeding potassium iodide and/or using antibiotics.

    Risk factors

    Access to foreign bodies and feeds that might cause damage to the mouth.  

  • Copy Link Roundworms


    Clinical signs

    • Ill thrift, weight loss
    • Heavy infections cause a profuse watery scour which can lead to dehydration In yearlings and adult cattle a heavy infestation with Ostertagia
    • roundworms can damage the fourth stomach resulting in loss of weight, reduced milk production and diarrhoea.


    There are 3 types of roundworm found in Australian dairy cattle (Ostertagia ostertagia; Trichostrongylus axei and Cooperia oncophora). Most animals carry some roundworms, but tend to develop immunity as they grow older and show few clinical signs if they are lightly infected.

    Roundworms produce huge numbers of eggs which are passed out in cow manure and hatch into tiny larvae. Dry, hot conditions destroy many larvae while cold weather slows down their life cycle. The worm larvae go through several life stages while living on grass, soil and in pats of cow manure, before becoming infective. When eaten by cows, these larvae develop into adult worms and find their way to the stomach and intestines.

    Animals likely to be affected

    Recently weaned calves grazing heavily contaminated paddocks. Occasionally worm numbers build up in adult animals and may cause type 1 or type 2 ostertagiosis, which usually affects only a small proportion of a mob.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    See Calf scours. Other causes of diarrhoea in adult cattle and yearlings, including coccidiosis, yersiniosis, salmonellosis, BJD, BVD.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Worm egg counts on manure. Laboratory tests to rule out other causes of scours.

    Risks to people

    Cattle roundworms do not pose any risks to people.


    Roundworms can be treated with 3 types of cattle drench, some of which are formulated as pour-on applications. Regular use of the same drench has the potential to select worms that are resistant, so drenches should be used strategically.

    Risk factors

    • Grazing recently weaned cattle on pastures that are heavily contaminated with infective worm larvae 
    • Short intervals between grazing episodes
    • Cold wet conditions


    The aim is to expose stock to a low level of roundworms that do not harm them while allowing immunity to develop. Use grazing management to avoid the build-up of very high numbers of infective worm larvae on pastures. Identify safer paddocks for young vulnerable calves, such as those used for cutting hay or silage. 

    If grazing programs are not sufficient to control roundworms, use strategic drenching to reduce impact on vulnerable animals. Ask your vet to help plan a drenching program to ensure that costs are minimised, benefits are maximised and there is no build-up of resistance to drenches.

  • Copy Link Woody tongue

    Woody tongue


    What to look for

    • Weight loss
    • Not eating
    • Excessive salivation/drooling
    • Lump under the jaw
    • Hard, painful tongue

    Cause - a bacterial infection (Actinobacillus lignieresi)

    This organism is normally present in the mouth of cattle. Under certain circumstances it penetrates into the tongue from an abrasion or an ulcer or a damaged tooth.

    Animals likely to be affected

    The disease generally occurs in individual mature animals but, on occasion, there may be a number of cases if a group of animals are exposed to circumstances such as rough or spiky feed or other environmental factors that cause abrasions in the mouth.

    Other diseases with similar signs

    Woody tongue needs to be differentiated from lumpy jaw, abscesses, injuries or foreign bodies in the head and mouth region.

    Confirming the diagnosis

    Usually, the clinical signs are sufficient for a diagnosis of woody tongue but, if the signs are not clear cut and/or the lesions are in other tissues it is possible to confirm the diagnosis with laboratory tests.

    Spread of the disease

    It is not spread from animal to animal and, if there is more than one case, it may be the result of cows grazing or feeding on products that can cause injuries to the mouth cavity.


    Treatment with sodium iodide injections and/or antibiotics can be successful if the disease is not too advanced.


    There is little that can be done to avoid woody tongue other than attempting to avoid rough or spiky feeds that might cause abrasions in the mouth.

Major Initiatives

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Dairy Australia has established a network of Focus Farms to support farmer decision making.


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