Risk factors for lungworm-associated milk yield losses in grazing dairy cattle
Dictyocaulus viviparus, the causative agent of bovine parasitic bronchitis, is an important parasite of dairy cattle. Infections can lead to substantial economic losses, due to mortality, reduced weight gain and milk production and treatment costs. There have been relatively few studies investigating herd management risk factors for infections with D. viviparus and lungworm-associated production losses. The aims of this study were (1) to assess the impact of (sub)clinical lungworm infections on productivity in dairy cows and, (2) to identify or confirm risk factors, related to herd management, for infections in grazing dairy cattle. Using a recombinant Major Sperm Protein (MSP)-based ELISA, the presence of D. viviparus antibodies in bulk tank milk (BTM) samples was evaluated on 717 and 634 farms at two-week intervals during two grazing seasons (2018 and 2019). Associations between milk antibody levels and production data (mean milk yield in kg/cow/day, percentage of fat and protein) were assessed, as well as associations with putative risk factors in the herd management, gathered through a questionnaire survey. In both years, there was a substantial, but non-significant, difference in the annual mean milk yield on farms with at least one BTM sample above the cut-off of 0.41 ODR, compared with the mean milk yield on farms that stayed under this threshold on each sampling day (-0.17 and -0.70 kg milk/cow/day in 2018 and 2019, respectively). In 2019, this association was stronger, and significant, when the cut-off was exceeded in at least two consecutive BTM samples (-1.74 kg milk/cow/day). BTM results were also significantly negatively associated with the closest milk production data during the two-weekly BTM sampling intervals in 2019. A single or two consecutive positive tests were used in the risk factor analysis as a proxy for lungworm-associated milk yield losses. Purchase of new animals (Odds Ratio (OR) = 2.68) and the proportion of the first grazing season covered by preventive anthelmintic treatment (OR up to 3.88, depending on proportion) were positively associated with lungworm-associated milk yield losses, while mowing at least 50 % of the pastures (OR = 0.57) was negatively associated with lungworm-associated milk yield losses. Our results suggest that the ELISA holds promise to identify herds with significant production losses due to lungworm infections, under the condition that BTM sampling is done repeatedly during the grazing season. Based on the confirmed risk factors, adjustments of the farm management could perhaps mitigate these losses.