Objective To describe the epidemiology of bovine Johne's disease (BJD) in beef herds in Australia.
Design Retrospective survey of beef herds detected with BJD between 1991 and 2006.
Methods Information about the management and physical characteristics of affected herds, index and clinical cases, testing and control programs, and attitudes to BJD were collated from existing data and personal interviews of herd owners or managers. Herds were excluded if they contained fewer than 30 breeding cows or operated as a dairy farm.
Results Records from 109 herds demonstrated the first detected (‘index’) case was 3.4-fold more likely to be a beef rather than dairy breed. However, further analysis revealed association with dairy cattle was an important risk factor for introducing BJD. Index cases were most likely detected by veterinarians investigating clinical cases of scouring or ill-thrifty animals during winter, particularly bulls or aged cows. Most herds with clinical BJD had only a single case, with only one high prevalence herd detected in the survey group. Over the period of observation, test and cull programs did not eradicate BJD unless combined with culling of known high-risk animals, but removal of high-risk cattle by partial or total destocking generally restored the trading status of affected herds.
Conclusion Excluding cattle with dairy contact from beef herds, ensuring more effective farm biosecurity, promptly seeking veterinary advice regarding scouring cattle and sourcing replacement cattle from demonstrably low-risk herds, such as CattleMAP and ‘Beef Only’ herds, are simple strategies that should reduce the risk of introducing BJD infection into beef herds.