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Research Review: Key findings from the industrial research chair in infectious diseases of dairy cattle

Published on 31 July 2019

Results from a five-year NSERC industrial research chair on infectious diseases of dairy cattle led by Dr. Herman Barkema of the University of Calgary will help farmers improve the management of dairy animal health to prevent, manage and treat dairy cattle for Johne’s disease (JD) and mastitis for a more profitable and sustainable dairy sector.

The chair is supported in partnership with dairy sector organizations and Dairy Farmers of Canada.



Mastitis and JD are costly diseases to the dairy sector, impacting animal health and farm profitability. The economic impact of mastitis in Canadian herds is calculated at $665 million per year in Canada and, for JD, another $90 million is estimated.

Five years of research focused on infectious diseases

Some key findings

  • Experiments indicated each Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP)-infected calf infected an average of about three non-infected penmates in a group-housed setting. Also, calves had fecal shedding of MAP in the first months of life, exposing them and others, potentially, to early infection. Calf-to-calf transmission of JD needs to be a key area of focus and should be part of future control programs for early identification and evaluation of MAP.

  • Better communication and exchange between a farmer and their veterinarian improved the likelihood of adoption of management practices and control programs by farmers, not only for JD but for other diseases that can be found on dairy farms.

  • A better understanding of non-aureus staphylococci (NAS) species, the most common group of bacteria isolated from the bovine udder, and other bacteria species in milk production may ultimately lead to the discovery of bacteriocins with the potential for control of S. aureus mastitis.

  • Identified and tested a method to better record and quantify antimicrobial use – a method that can be applied in future surveillance programs.  end mark

PHOTO: Five years of research focused on infectious diseases will help the industry combat Johne’s disease and mastitis. Photo provided by Dr. Herman Barkema and team, University of Calgary.

Dr. Herman Barkema is a professor in epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the NSERC industrial research chair in infectious diseases of dairy cattle, with a joint appointment in the Department of Community Health Sciences of the Cumming School of Medicine. He is also a guest professor at Ghent University in Belgium and foreign expert at the China Agricultural University in Beijing. Barkema’s research program focuses on the prevention and control of diseases in cattle herds, including antimicrobial resistance. He has published more than 300 scientific manuscripts and has lectured all over the world.

Research chair provides opportunity to hire a new scientist in the dairy area

Dr. Eduardo Cobo was recruited for the position of assistant professor at the University of Calgary as a result of this chair. He is a veterinary immunologist and studies alternatives to antimicrobials. Cobo will be investigating the role of immunology in bovine mastitis, MAP infection and digital dermatitis.


Canadian Dairy Research: For a productive, innovative and sustainable sector

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) invests in research to stimulate productivity, sustainability and profitability on farms and to improve knowledge on milk and dairy products’ health benefits. DFC finances research initiatives that benefit all dairy farmers across Canada and works in collaboration with its members and other sectorial partners to address farmers’ priorities set in the dairy research and knowledge translation and transfer national strategies. Visit for more information.