Reduced culling rates, improved production and lower vet bills can all be achieved when a well-constructed farm health plan is implemented. So why does health planning still receive overwhelming apathy from farmers?
“Nearly three-quarters of the 61 farmers questioned said health planning was done merely to satisfy someone else, while 53% said they only had a farm health plan to pass farm assurance inspections.”
And while 29% of farmers felt health records were beneficial as protocols for new or relief employees, most worringly, 62% of farmers were failing to review them, said Mr Bell.
However, without an active and working health plan preventing and treating common conditions such as lameness and mastitis was difficult, as past performance couldn’t be used as a pointer to future improvements, he explained.
And particularly in the case of lameness, it was difficult to assess cases without a known protocol. “With mastitis it is easy to diagnose as foremilk can be checked twice a day in the parlour and somatic cell count recording allows problem cows to be checked. But lameness is different. The early-warning signs are less quantifiable, simply picking out cows which are slow coming to the parlour isn’t a sufficient measure.”
Julie Fitzpatrick of the Moredun Research Institute said every farmer had a responsibility to protect his own herd from disease introduction and limit spread on his own farm.
“Developing and using health plans and disease protocols is the only way to ensure disease risks can be kept as low as possible. Incoming stock should be sourced from disease-free sources and quarantined on arrival to ensure they don’t introduce disease to existing stock or contract disease themselves.”
When buying in stock, Prof Fitzpatrick said, farmers should consider disease testing before purchase. “But no test is 100% efficient, so it may be necessary to re-test during the quarantine period to ensure stock are disease free. Strategic treatments may also be needed before stock are mixed with resident animals.”
But for a health plan to be effective accurate records were essential, she stressed. “You need to be aware of what the current problems are, at what rate they occur, how successful treatment has been and what level of culling each disease is responsible for.”
Once these data have been collected they should be used to compare disease incidence and related issues with other similar farms. “This means you know how you are performing and can make plans to change existing practice.”
And in future those actions could include breeding for resistance to disease, rather than simply implementing vaccination or other drug-based programmes to prevent disease.
“There are a number of diseases for which genetic susceptibility is known and breeding plans can help avoid these. For example we know some cows are more likely to develop mastitis than others. Recording which cows suffer more frequently means they can be avoided for replacement breeding.”
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