Vet Watch - Farmers Weekly

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Vet Watch

Janet Blikmans

The Drove Vet Hospital, Swindon

For farmers in the south west, there is an exciting initiative starting – The Healthy Livestock project, part of the South West Healthy Livestock Initiative (SWHLI). This is funded through the Rural Development Programme for England, from the EU and DEFRA, and is available for 2.5 years for specific ruminant disease advice.

Projects are available for holdings in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and the former county of Avon.

The disease areas involved are mastitis, BVD, Johnes, lameness and respiratory disease and up to 70% funding is available with the rest to be paid by farmers.

Find out whether your vet is involved by calling them – it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Stuart Morris

Alnorthumbria Vet Group, Alnwick

We have held a number of autumn workshops offering advice and practical demonstrations on best practice for weaning and housing of calves. However, outbreaks of pneumonia remain an annual problem. Look out for reduced feed intake as an indicator of an impending outbreak. Early intervention will increase the range of treatment options available. Fresh cases, animals with a high temperature but not yet affected by a snotty nose, are suitable candidates for sampling by means of nasal swabs and lung washes. The identification of specific viruses or bacteria then allows us to tailor a treatment plan for the farm, which could then include group vaccination as well as treatment for sick individuals.

Matthew Berriman

Rosevean Vet Practice, Penzance

We frequently see serious problems associated with BVD virus and have diagnosed a number of persistently infected (PI) animals recently. The biggest biosecurity risk is bought in animals. When buying any animal in it is important they are quarantined and blood tested for BVD and other infectious diseases.

When PI animals are brought into vaccinated herds, this can also cause problems. Vaccination is effective, but can be overcome in the face of a PI animal excreting large amounts of virus. To fully control BVD in a herd it is essential to remove the PI animals as well as vaccinating. Blood testing yearlings can tell you if PI animals are likely to be present in the herd.

Kathryne Peaty

Friars Moor Vet Clinic, Sturminster

The practice is once again seeing its busiest period for TB testing as the herds are being brought in for the winter. With the future of testing currently looking uncertain I would urge people to think about the benefits of having your vet perform your test.

Very rarely do I come away from a farm where I have been testing without having also done some PDs or been asked to look at an off-colour cow or a batch of coughing calves.

The TB test is not just a means of controlling TB – it is an ideal time to raise any concerns that you may have and to discuss any aspects of herd health that you may not ordinarily want to especially call the vet out to.

All contributing vets are members of XLVets, a group of vet practices which work together, alongside commercial research and manufacturing companies. They aim to share best practice on advice and disease prevention initiatives.

Vet Watch

Rose Willis Scarsdale Vet Group, Derby

Willis,-Rosemain.jpgRecently Scarsdale has been highlighting the importance of testing bulls for fertility.

One dairy client learnt this to his expense as it took a couple of months for him to realise cows weren’t holding to service. After testing the bull we soon established he was firing blanks, but by this point the calving pattern had already been disrupted.

It is also vital to remember bulls can carry infectious disease onto the farm and they must be blood sampled for the main diseases before purchase and moving onto the farm.

Steve Glanville Hook Norton Vet Surgeons, Hook Norton, Banbury

steve-glanvillemain.jpgBig calves are a problem this autumn. After a wet summer and plenty of lush grass, it has been difficult to control the condition of pregnant cows and heifers and consequently we are seeing over  fat animals with big calves inside and calving problems.

It’s probably too late to control the condition of these animals, so it’s important to take time, use plenty of lubrication and apply traction gradually. If the calving is not progressing stop, re-assess and if need be call a vet. Animals and calves are too valuable to risk these problems and a caesarean is a good alternative if performed early enough.


Ian Bates Fenwold Veterinary Practice, Skegness

Bates,-Ianmain.jpgLungworm is common at this time of year, with both beef and dairy units being affected. Severe milk drop on one dairy unit and several deaths in beef suckler herds have been seen.

To maintain immunity, adult cattle should experience low levels of infection each year. Most herds contain ‘carrier’ animals and these animals ensure low level herd exposure- maintaining immunity. Routine treatment of the whole herd with effective wormers removes these carrier animals thus reducing herd immunity.

Lungworm is sensitive to all the commonly used wormers, but pasture remains infective for three weeks. Short acting wormers therefore necessitate removal of stock to clean pasture.

Richard Matthews Castle Vet Group, Barnard Castle

richard-matthewsmainCalves with contracted tendons are a sporadic problem in many beef herds. Normally they are the result of a lack of space in utero, or some cases inherited.

Affected calves walk on tiptoe, or in the worst cases walk on the front of their fetlocks. Many of these calves will come right unaided after a few days, but more severe cases may need splinting, but care needed to be taken to prevent pressure sores.


Vet watch

martin peatAt this time of year, it is important to watch out for summer mastitis and lungworm.

Summer mastitis is spread by flies to dry udders in cows and heifers. Initially seen as a hot, swollen udder, this can progress to a sick cow if not spotted and treated promptly.

Control is based on reducing exposure to flies by either insecticide tags or pour-ons.

The use of dry cow tubes and teat sealants can also reduce infection rates. Also, avoid grazing dry cows and in-calf heifers on fly-prone pastures. Lungworm is a problem in previously unexposed stock at grass. Although associated with young stock, we have seen a few cases in adult cattle this year.

Signs vary from a slight cough to severe pneumonia. Growth rates will also be affected. Prevention involves live vaccine or strategic use of wormers.

steve trickeyPoor fertility seems to be an ongoing battle. We have seen a number of farms install reproductive management systems to help pick up bulling – generally with good results.

But total reliance on the system is not recommended – you still need to observe cows.

We often see cows presented because they have not been picked up as bulling by the collar. But on examination they have a bulling string and a follicle ready to ovulate. We also see cows that have registered on the system, but are mid-cycle and not ready to serve.

You must remember, this is an aid to help detect bulling, it may help pick out cows you are not too sure about. But take care – pregnant cows do show signs of bulling sometimes and there is always risk of abortion if you inseminate an already pregnant cow.

andrew schofieldOur practice has been covering the Great Yorkshire Show since before World War II. This year was no different, with three vets in attendance as soon as stock started to arrive.

Every animal is inspected on arrival – entries this year included more than 4000 stock.

There is usually an array of health issues. Many are mild conditions associated with transportation and mixing of stock, such as respiratory infections and scours, simply requiring a course of antibiotics or electrolytes. Most cases can be treated in their pens. Animals requiring closer attention can be brought into a hospitalisation area in a quiet backwater on the showground.

I visited one of our Purbeck dairy farms recently. With mastitis, high cell counts and sub-optimal fertility issues, the farm has consistently produced just more than 700,000 litres a year.

The new dairyman is determined to improve cow health. Working together, most of the issues have improved; cows are in calf allowing the herd to expand. The farm owner hopes to get more than 1m litres from the herd this year and I expect they will achieve this.

However hard vets try to give advice about animal management and welfare, it comes down to the quality of decision making and staff on the farm.

The question is, how can vets help farms improve the quality of decision making? Training and skills development will help and then it comes down to the conscientiousness of the stockman.

For more about XL Vets

Vet Watch

Iain Richards

Iain Richards

Westmorland Vet Group, Kendal

  • The warm, wet June was perfect for parasite survival. With the rise in wormer resistance, more are aware of the benefits of worm egg counts for targeted control. Easily done in the practice lab, it can be the most useful tool to plan the approach to worms, fluke and tapeworms.

Taking 10 fresh faecal samples will give an accurate flock result. Getting the samples to the surgery on the same day is ideal, but if you have a wait, store in a fridge. Results will indicate when to worm. Taking samples after worming is even more important, as this shows how well your wormers are working.

Fluke, has been bad this year, so control should be discussed with a vet. Tapeworm cysts in lambs livers have been on the increase. The key to control is to regularly worm dogs and ensuring dogs don’t have access to dead sheep.

Matthew Pugh

Belmont Vet Centre, Hereford

  • Minerals use always raises questions like, What do I need to supplement with? Things are not always obvious, which has been highlighted in some cases recently. One beef suckler unit lost several calves at 2-4 weeks of age either found dead or collapsed and close to death. Post-mortem investigations identified “white muscle disease” caused by selenium deficiency.

A second fattening unit had several cattle become recumbent with swollen, puffy joints. This was due to insufficient calcium in the diet resulting in a gradual reduction in the strength of the bones. Last, a dairy unit had two cows showing signs of lethargy, with both being found dead the next day; copper poisoning was the cause of death as a result of chronically overfeeding too much copper in the diet.

These problems were all potentially avoidable. Finding out the mineral status of animals by blood testing and liver sampling if possible and finding out the true mineral content of the feeds and forages fed to the stock is vital.

Stuart Gough

stuart gough

Calweton Vet Centre, Callington, Cornwall

  • As we enjoy this “barbecue summer” and thoughts turn to a cool beer in the shade, have you thought about what your cows drink? Cows like a long, clean unhurried drink of water. Just like us, they like a drink with pals after work, ie, milking. So plenty of drinking space – ideally, 1m sq of water surface per 60 cows – is vital.

Water flow rate to the trough must be at least 10 litres/min and the water level should be about 70-80cm above ground with a 10cm lip to stop spillage. The ground surrounding must also be safe, level and non-slip.

We all like a clean glass, so do cows, and like us they hate other cow’s saliva. In hot weather dirt in the trough makes the water taste funny and cows then drink less. Less drink means less milk and also reduced feed intake. Just think about those high yielders sheltering from the sun, not eating and not drinking, we must make it as easy as possible for them.

Ben Pedley

ben pedley

Willows Vet Group, Northwich

  • Twisted uteruses at and before calving are increasing. One theory for this increase is stress in the close-to-calving cows, causing them to be more restless, spending less time lying down and giving the calf in the uterus an increased opportunity to twist over.

This increase in stress is due to:

• Larger herd/group sizes

• Block calving

• Less space

• Changes in social groups

We are still seeing this, even though a lot of calving cows are outside.

The signs of a twisted uterus are:

• The cow starting to calve, but “not getting on with it”

• The cow wandering around with her tail up

• Sunken eyes as the cow goes into shock

If you feel a cow should have “got on with it by now”, then it is always worth examining her. With a clean hand feel in via the vagina and the twist can be felt with the palm of the hand flat against the vaginal wall. It seems to spiral away from you. If in any doubt, call for the vet.

Vet Watch

Charlie Lambert

charlie lambert

Lambert, Leonard and May, Cheshire

  • The dairy farmers in Shropshire and Cheshire have yet again kept us working to capacity this spring here at Lambert, Leonard and May.

Although we have great intentions of providing a more involved service to our clients by the way of disease prevention and herd health planning, cattle values remain so high that our “fire brigade service” is as busy as ever.

Fertility continues to be a major headache in the large Holstein herds and many clients have installed electronic heat detection aids, which pick up abnormal increases in individual cow locomotion at oestrous.

The submission rates on these farms have increased significantly to the point where most “non-bullers” presented on these units at routine visits are either cystic or acyclic.

Peter Morley

peter morley

The Shepton Vet Group, Shepton Mallet

  • We have seen stray voltage problems on four farms over the past 10 years as a result of poorly earthed or poorly wired parlours.

Cows do not want to come in to the parlour to be milked, when they know they are going to get these shocks. So the first sign is a reluctance to enter the parlour. It is almost as if someone has painted a red line at the entrance which they must not cross.

Once they are brought in, and in most cases this requires an extra person, they are nervous and apprehensive, so there is a lot of mucking and urination in the parlour. The milk let-down reflex is poor, as cows are frightened and once the milking unit is attached, the milk flow can be poor. Cows often kick off the units if they feel any tingle.

The combination of lots of muck, a poor let-down reflex and under-milked cows results in a reduction in yield and an increase in clinical mastitis, cell count and Bactoscan.

James Frayne

james frayne

Millcroft Vet Group, Cumbria

  • The recent training course for the Livestock Northwest health planning initiative was a valuable opportunity to meet other vets and advisers from the region. It was a chance to share best practice and the benefits of a team approach to problems on farm.

One of the topics highlighted was the thorny issue of Johne’s disease. This is a problem on most farms now and we are diagnosing cases on a regular basis. As the disease is untreatable, prevention of infection is the only option for control.

Colostrum management, calving hygiene, testing and culling are all important in reducing its impact in beef and dairy herds. Control measures are also likely to have the benefit of reducing calf diseases, such as scour, navel and joint ill.

Roger Scott

roger scott

Scott Mitchell Associates, Tyne Green, Hexham

  • A few weeks ago the price of bluetongue vaccine was pretty stable – there were three manufacturers producing it and the price was largely the same.

Despite our northerly position, where allegedly our midges beat up soft southern midges, there was a good proportion of farmers doing the decent thing and vaccinating. Howwever, there were also quite a few who didn’t. But few of them blamed vaccine price, with most blaming a lack of time and labour.

A few weeks later the market was suddenly hit by DEFRA’s half-price “short-shelf-life” vaccine. This was an even cheaper alternative for farmers, but for cattle men that had used an alternative vaccine the year before it was not going to be possible to “boost” with this product. Suddenly the view of farmers changed, with many suggesting price was an important issue and few wanting to pay full price for non-DEFRA vaccine. As we say here in the north east – howay lads – just do it.

* All participating vets are members of XLVets, a group of farm animal committed practices who work together, alongside commercial research and manufacturing companies. They aim to share best practice on advice and disease prevention initiatives

Vet Watch

Paul Rodgers, Allen and Partners

Paul Rodgers

The Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions (WLBP) health planning scheme finished in summer 2008. When a questionnaire had been completed before my visit, I was able to help farmers more than when my time was used to gather information.

Although complying with farm assurance is part of planning, I believe vet time is best focused on identifying existing problems, developing a plan to reduce these problems and preventing the introduction of new disease.

Access to production figures is an essential part of this process. WLBP is now developing an online herd/flock health tool.

This information can be analysed with your vet to help reduce disease costs. Savings can be made by focusing vet time on the important issues greater savings will be made by reducing disease and increasing production.

Steve Borsberry, 608 Vet Group


Mineral imbalance can cause problems in all classes of livestock. Young and rapidly growing cattle require adequate calcium and phosphorus in the correct ratio (2:1 is the normal recommendation).

Rations which provide excess phosphorus can result in brittle bones leading to spontaneous leg fractures. One early sign of such an imbalance can be enlargement of the fetlocks and hocks. If you have any suspicions, ask your nutritionist to check the diet.

Computer programs are excellent at data analysis, but we often forget the basic requirements of cows. Enough food and water may seem obvious, but, at times, can be overlooked, such as when feed fence design limits feed intake. Spending time observing cow behaviour will pay dividends.

 David Feneley, Wensum Valley Vet Surgeons

David FeneleyBluetongue remains a significant threat to UK susceptible livestock. Just because we did not see clinical disease last summer does not mean the threat has subsided. It is thought rolling out bluetongue vaccination via the protection zones was primarily responsible for keeping us clear of disease.

With bluetongue serotypes one, six and eight all circulating on the near continent wind spread of infected midges to the UK is not unlikely this summer.

Susceptible stock must, therefore, be vaccinated again this year. In the UK, we still only have vaccination against serotype eight, so we can only guard against other serotypes by maintaining vigilance for clinical signs of disease and being sensible when importing stock from abroad.

Richard Morris, Fenwold Vet Centre, Spilsby, Lincolnshire

With the lambing season upon us, some common problems to look out for will be abortion storms, pregnancy toxaemia and watery mouth/rattle belly. These can have a devastating effect on flock profitability, but with vigilance and attention to detail their effect on the flock can be minimised.

Any abortion outbreaks should be investigated to identify the cause and prevent the spread of the common infectious agents chlamydia (enzootic abortion) or toxoplasma. The aborted lamb and a piece of placenta should be brought to the surgery so samples can be sent away for investigation.

When several ewes have aborted, blood samples should be taken. Investigation of abortion outbreaks will identify which infectious agents are present and allow prevention with vaccination regimes, as part of the flock health plan.

All contributing vets are members of XLVets, a group of vet practices which work together, alongside commercial research and manufacturing companies. They aim to share best practice on advice and disease prevention initiatives.

Vet Watch

Jonathan Statham

jonathan statham

Bishopton Vet Group, Ripon

  • Neospora caninum is diagnosed in 35% of bovine abortions submitted for investigation. It is a protozoan parasite with similarities to toxoplasma infections in sheep. Although relatively newly diagnosed, it is probably not new in the UK.

Neospora causes abortion commonly around drying-off time for dairy cows. It may be spread sporadically from dogs in horizontal transmission. But perhaps of more significance is vertical transmission from infected dam to calf.

Where this does not result in abortion, a chronically infected heifer calf may be born. This heifer calf will, in turn, transmit neospora to her calf when she becomes pregnant. In this way, unseen by farmer and vet alike, neospora infection in a herd can steadily increase to frightening levels.


Graeme McPherson

graeme macpherson

Larkmead Vet Group

  • With the start of spring calving upon us here in south Oxfordshire we must remember that for the farmer’s future profit, we need to get cows back in calf again. This necessitates a healthy, fertile and virile bull.

Disease or stress can affect sperm production and quality for more than six weeks after the event. Now is the time to check the bull’s condition score and feet.

Also, think about his nutrition: Bulls perform better when on a rising plane of nutrition for six weeks before mating.

An infertile bull can devastate next year’s calf crop, so it is worth considering having his sperm quality analysed by electro-ejaculation by your vet.

If you have questions about how to get the most out of your bulls, speak to your vet.


Toby Kemble

toby kremble

Wensum Valley Vets, Fakenham

  • Farmers throughout the country are wondering how bluetongue will affect them in the next few months. In East Anglia the restrictions are affecting everyone already and talk is now of vaccination.

If it is sold at, say, 50p a dose, with one dose needed for sheep, a sheep farmer with 1000 ewes (and hence up to 3000 animals when vaccine is available) will be asked to spend £1500, both to save his livelihood and to prevent spread to others.

With the sheep industry as it is, many farmers are not in a position to pay this. While they will want to protect their own flock and help stop the disease, if they cannot afford it, they will not do it.


Tim O’Sullivan

tim o

Mcpherson O’Sullivan, Hanwood, Shrewsbury

  • Spring normally sees an increase in the number of left-displaced abomasums. Vets often debate the best treatments, but the farmer’s best option is prevention. Nine in 10 LDAs occur within the first four weeks after calving.

The key to prevention is maintaining good rumen function and fill in the late dry period and early post-calving period. Blood sampling late-pregnancy cows for signs of fatty breakdown can help spot problems before they begin.

Meanwhile, heifers are much less likely to suffer when they have had adequate time in the dry cow group to adjust to new diets and the new social group.

* All participating vets are members of XLVets, a group of farm animal committed practices who work together, alongside commercial research and manufacturing companies. They aim to share best practice on advice and disease prevention initiatives.

Vet watch

martin peat

Martin Peat
Cain Vet Group, Powys

Q With such a wet summer we have seen an increase in clinical cases of liver fluke this autumn. These have presented as a drop in milk yield, weight loss and diarrhoea in adult dairy cattle and as sudden death in a group of lambs.

Even farms not usually affected need to consider the possibility of infection this year. Discuss diagnosis and treatment/prevention with your vet.

As cattle are housed we are also seeing the seasonal rise in cases of pneumonia. It is worth considering whether cases can be prevented with improvements in housing and use of vaccines. Vaccination depends on various factors such as bugs on farm and age of calves.

John Macfarlane

John Macfarlane
Alnorthumbria Vet Group, Northumberland

Q “Calves and Kilos” has been our war-cry this autumn as we’ve progressed our DEFRA-funded North of England Cattle Health Initiative for beef farms. The aim has been to focus on producing a simple Health Plan which directly addresses farm profitability.

Our approach has been to establish a series of key production targets to assess individual farm performance, while screening culls and abortions for infections such as Johne’s, BVD, Neospora and Leptospirosis.

We have also tapped into pharmaceutical company sampling schemes, semen tested bulls and run trace mineral checks. This package has given nearly 100 beef farmers in NE England a unique and comprehensive review of the profit-limiting factors on their farms.

steve trickey

Steve Trickey
Chapelfield Vet Partnership, Norfolk

Q At a time when feed costs have increased and opportunities to buy cheap by-products or non human grade food are presented, take a little time to think whether this is the best thing to do.

One of my clients took delivery of some boxed sweet potatoes which were no longer suitable for the human market to feed to a group of Limousin cows. Over the course of a weekend, we lost six out of seven cows with signs of acute respiratory distress similar to fog fever, which did not respond to any treatment.

Death occurred between five and 12 hours after showing signs of respiratory distress.

Post mortems and testing of the sweet potatoes lead us to believe that a fungus on the skin of the potatoes was the cause of the deaths. So please check feed quality carefully.

Don Macmillan

Don Macmillan
Minster Vet Group, York

Anthelmintic resistance is one of the major problems facing the UK sheep industry. Slowing resistance should be a vital part of any flock health programme.

When there is so much sheep movement, effective quarantine strategies are essential, in particular quarantine drenching.

In many cases quarantine drenching is not being done properly because sheep are being given the incorrect dose. The weight of sheep is calculated incorrectly resulting in the wrong dose of wormer being given. It is, therefore, essential the correct advice is given when anthelmintics are dispensed, ensuring the most appropriate drug is used at the correct dose.

Q All participating vets are members of XLVets, a group of farm animal committed practices who work together, alongside commercial research and manufacturing companies. They aim to share best practice on advice and disease prevention initiatives.

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