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Johne’s disease is an increasing problem – Should manure be applied to forages?

Christine Brown Published on 11 November 2009

Johne’s disease is a persistent and debilitating bacterial disease that affects the intestines of ruminant animals.

The disease is especially problematic in dairy herds, where many cattle can be infected, but only a small percentage of animals (less than 5 percent) show the clinical signs of chronic diarrhea and extreme weight loss. These cows also experience decreased milk production.

Infected cattle, even those not showing sickness, may shed the bacteria in manure. Animal susceptibility to infection Johne’s disease is caused by Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP).

Calves, especially those under six months of age, are most susceptible to infection. Animals under stress are also more susceptible than healthy cattle.

The common routes of infection are via ingestion of colostrum or milk contaminated by infected cows. For this reason, Johne’s prevention strategies revolve around calf management and herd testing.

Infection can also occur when feed contaminated with manure containing the MAP pathogen is eaten, particularly by youngstock. For this reason, manure application to forages is a potential source of infection.

Survival of the disease bacteria in the environment
MAP can survive in manure and water for up to one year and on pastures and hay fields for up to six months. Exposure to sunlight, drying, high pH, liming and low iron, as well as the processes of fermentation and composting, appear to reduce the survival of MAP.

Factors that reduce the survival of the bacteria can also help in better managing manure applied to forages.

Management strategies
The following strategies are suggested for manure management in herds where Johne’s disease has been identified:
• Manure should not be applied to forages in calf or heifer pastures during the grazing season.
• Topdress the liquid manure as soon as possible following harvest. This allows the sunlight and desiccation to kill the MAP bacteria.
• Apply manure to fields that will be ensiled or harvested for haylage. Proper fermentation appears to kill the bacteria. Use good ensiling techniques, including proper dry matter content, use of silage inoculant if required, rapid filling, adequate packing and covering as soon as the storage is filled.
• Avoid application of manure to fields that will be harvested for dry hay, especially calf and heifer hay (Table 1*). Where manure is applied, it should be done before any re-growth occurs.  FG

*Table omitted but is available upon request to

—Excerpts from OMAFRA Crop Talk, June 2009

Christine Brown
Nutrient Management Lead
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food & Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)