19 November 1999

Gain could turn into pain

By Marianne Curtis

CUTTING back on preventative medicines and animal welfare inputs may lead to welcome short term savings as returns continue to fall. But short term gain could mean long term pain for both animals and pockets.

Fearing the downturn in farm incomes may impact on animal welfare, senior SAC advisor Kevin Phillips aired his concerns at the Borders and Lothians Farm Animal Liaison Group last week.

"On most units, animal welfare is good and will continue to be good. Significant financial difficulty experienced in some farm businesses means there is a risk that inappropriate decisions could lead to poorer animal welfare," he said.

He is particularly concerned about low value stock such as sheep. "A cast ewe may only be worth a few £s. Calling the vet may cost more than she is worth so producers choose not to, meaning the animal may suffer."

Sheep scab is another concern. Cutting down on the number of treatments reduces their effectiveness in eradicating the mite from flocks, warns Mr Phillips. Mac Johnson of the Royal Veterinary College is also worried that sheep health may suffer through a reduction in clostridial vaccine use.

A re-emergence of clostridial diseases is possible but may take time, as unvaccinated animals filter through a flock. "A couple of years ago there was serious concern among vets that sheep were not being vaccinated against clostridial diseases.

"Discarding routine preventative measures should not be undertaken lightly as the net losses may be much greater than savings," says Prof Johnson.

Cutting drug costs by buying over the internet could also be false economy, he warns. "Drugs sold on the internet may not be the drug you expect or of questionable quality, or strength."

But there are possibly cheaper alternatives to drug use for controlling some diseases. "One of the most common ways to bring disease into a herd is to introduce new animals. Buying high health status animals might cost a few £s more but will be cost effective because the herd will not be exposed to new diseases," advises Prof Johnson.

Committee member of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture body – RUMA – and Devon dairy producer, Brian Jennings, believes that animal health planning on a herd or flock basis in consultation with a vet is the way forward.

"Vets are increasingly skilled in disease risk management. Calf pneumonia, scour and salmonella can be the result of poor ventilation or nutrition which vets can advise on."

Having occasional health visit-type consultations with vets can help producers identify weaknesses in their production system which may lead to health and welfare problems in the future. Addressing these before animals become ill, and require emergency visits can save money on drugs and vet fees, believes Mr Jennings.

"Some farms have a perpetual problem with coccidiosis in lambs whereas others never have a problem. Vets experience many different situations and can advise producers on different methods of solving the problem." &#42

HEALTH & WELFARE

&#8226 Dont cut preventative measures.

&#8226 Buy high health status animals?

&#8226 Health plans useful.