PA Johne’s Disease Herd Certification Process

Posted: February 7, 2005

The PA Johne’s Disease Herd Certification Process (JDHCP) is based on the national program standards, which were developed by the USDA and the National Johne’s Working Group in an effort to bring uniformity to the Johne’s programs being developed by individual states.

The PA Department of Agriculture, Penn State University, University of Pennsylvania, and the USDA are collaborating on a rejuvenation of Johne’s Disease control efforts in Pennsylvania.

Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP) is the bacteria that causes Johne’s Disease in cattle. This disease has a very long incubation period, which results in many animals within a herd being infected, while relatively few exhibit clinical signs of disease. Not only do these subclinically infected animals appear to be healthy, they are also quite difficult to diagnose accurately with the diagnostic tests that are currently available. Unfortunately however, subclinically infected animals can pose a significant risk to the herd, since they can easily infect one or more animals before they are culled. Therefore a Johne’s control strategy that relies primarily or exclusively on testing is very unlikely to be successful at reducing the number of infected animals within a herd. Instead, routine management practices must be put in place which will significantly reduce the risk of uninfected animals being exposed to MAP bacteria from both clinically and subclinically infected animals.

For this reason, the foundation for a herd’s participation in the PA JDHCP is not testing, but a Johne’s Disease herd management plan. This plan is based on a standardized risk assessment done by a Johne’s Certified Veterinarian, in conjunction with the herd owner/manager and any other key work will be the certified vet who develops the herd plan with the herd owner, since a periodic discussion and review of the employees or herd advisors that the owner wishes to have involved. Ideally, the veterinarian who does the routine herd plan is beneficial to making sure it is implemented successfully.

Another advantage of taking a management approach to deal with Johne’s Disease is that other benefits are also likely to be recognized. Various producers have observed such benefits as decreased calf scours and decreased pre-weaning death loss, along with the decreased spread of Salmonella and other infectious ‘fecal-oral’ pathogens throughout the herd.

In order for veterinarians to be able to enroll herds in the PA JDHCP they must be “Johne’s Certified.” The purpose of this certification are to ensure that a similar and consistent approach is used from farm to farm, and to provide an opportunity for veterinarians to discuss the role of various management practices and testing strategies in the on-farm control of Johne’s Disease. Certification sessions are being offered to veterinarians (free of charge!) throughout the state. If your veterinarian is not yet ‘certified’, ask him or her if they are planning to attend one of the upcoming sessions. For more information they can contact Ernest Hovingh (, 814.863.2160) or visit the Veterinary Extension website (

Screening or organism detection tests may be included as a part of the comprehensive Johne’s Disease herd management plan, but there is significant flexibility as to what testing is management and control levels. (In fact, by implementing meaningful management practices a significant impact on the level of Johne’s Disease in a herd can be made even without any testing at all!) Herds that want to participate in the JDHCP at the “status level”, where each level provides increased confidence of a herd truly being ‘test-negative’, have to follow a prescribed testing regimen as outlined in PA’s herd certification process guidelines.

The PA Department of Agriculture has received funding from the USDA with which it is offering incentives designed to encourage producers and veterinarians to participate in the PA JDHCP. The herd owner (both dairy and beef herds can participate!) will receive an incentive payment of $5.00 per animal on the farm, up to a maximum of $300.00. This money will be received after the appropriate documentation is submitted to the PDA, and the herd management plan is accepted by the state’s Designated Johne’s Coordinator. The certified veterinarian will receive $250.00 for the time s/he has taken to complete the risk assessment and develop the herd management plan - the process normally takes 2.5 to 3 hours. In addition to these direct incentives, laboratory testing fees for herds participating in the PA JDHCP have been substantially reduced - serum ELISAs are available free of cost, while a fecal culture costs only $2.00 per sample!

Although the funding from USDA is only available on a year-by-year basis, there is the expectation that this will remain a relatively high priority area for the USDA, and that a significant effort will be made to continue to support these Johne’s Disease control efforts in the years to come.

Whether or not you have seen clinical Johne’s Disease in your herd, whether you are an ‘open’ or a ‘closed’ herd, whether you milk 30 or 1300 cows, the Pennsylvania Johne’s Disease Herd Certification Process is something for you to consider becoming involved in! You are strongly encouraged to discuss with your veterinarian the benefits and process of enrolling your herd.

For further information on Johne’s Disease, or the official PA Johne’s Disease Herd Certification Process, please contact Ernest Hovingh (, 814.863.2160).

Ernest Hovingh, Veterinary Science Dairy Extension Veterinarian and
David R. Wolfgang, Veterinary Science Extension Veterinarian & Field Investigator