HUMANS HAVE INTRINSIC ECONOMIC value – we produce goods, deliver services, and add value to our local communities. When we are not healthy, our contributions are diminished greatly. The World Health Organization calls one year of a “healthy” life lost a DALY, or disability-adjusted life year.

What if we could apply a similar DALY metric to dairy cows? There is a limited amount of research that connects diseases common in dairy cows with the economic impact of cows that under-produce due to these diseases, said Joleen Hadrich, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resources Economics, and Dr. Craig McConnel, CSU veterinarian and dairy population health expert. Clinical sciences graduate student Ashleigh McNeil is assisting with the collaboration between the colleges of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences as part of her M.S. thesis.

“Dairy cows are one of the few animals used in agriculture that can be characterized as having a continuous cash flow for farmers,” said Hadrich. “When they are healthy, they provide revenue through efficient milk production.”

McConnel and McNeil have been working with a farm in Kansas to assess the impact of diseases on dairy production. “When a cow takes the day off [due to illness], it affects the farmer’s bottom line,” said McConnel. “Helping farmers understand the economic impact of disease will help them focus their health management.”

The DALY metric has never before been applied to dairy cows. To supplement their economic modeling and work with farmers, Hadrich, McNeil, and
McConnel have sent out surveys to several thousand dairy owners, managers, and veterinarians to gauge how they view the impact of disease on dairy operations.

“An integral component of our research is getting the opinion of the experts in this industry regarding the issues they see with health events on a day-to-day basis,” said McNeil.

Hadrich and McConnel also plan to work with dairy operations in Colorado and eventually in China, Australia, and New Zealand, countries with sizable populations of dairy cows.

Ultimately, Hadrich, McConnel, and McNeil want their work to lead to a better understanding of the economics of health decisions. Dairy cows that are not producing at optimal and efficient levels take valuable resources that might be better directed in other ways. Hadrich and McConnel hope to collect data over several 2- to 5-year periods at a number of sites so that the long-term impacts of dairy cow diseases can be measured here in Colorado, across the United States and around the world.

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