21 December 2001

Good welfare is way to up profit

By Shelley Wright

BETTER performance and improved profit go hand-in-hand with good animal welfare, so they must not be looked at in isolation.

Anne Seaton, head of Dumfries Vet Investigation Centre, told producers at an SAC, Scottish Executive-sponsored, Welfare, Profit and Performance meeting, that too often welfare was looked at in a negative light.

"Firstly, because the easiest way to define welfare problems is when disease occurs. Secondly, because producers look at welfare as something that is yet another thing outsiders are imposing on farming," she said.

"But, improved health increases profitability through better production, fewer deaths or culls and a lower replacement rate. Cost and time can also be saved when fewer animals need treatment.

"Its too easy to think of welfare and health as an on-off situation – either the animal is healthy or its not. Instead, disease follows a scale with animal production capable of being impaired by sub-clinical disease long before animals show any symptoms," she explained to the Lockerbie audience.

A host of factors was involved in disease on farms. Agents such as bacteria, viruses, parasites or physical damage acted in concert with the immune status, nutrition and stress. Environmental factors, too, like ventilation, hygiene and stocking-rate, also played a role.

A planned approach to health management was a far better solution than the fire brigade approach of dealing with problems only when disease became evident, she added.

"The fire brigade system means you dont need to spend any time planning and there will be less investment in things like vaccines. But it means you are only dealing with the tip of the iceberg.

"Treating symptoms means you are less likely to deal with all causative factors involved. Overall disease levels are likely to be higher with this approach and costs will be higher too. You also have impaired welfare."

Its much better to adopt a proactive, whole system approach. "This allows you to assess risk and address the problems on your own farms," she said.

"The starting point is to assess current disease status, management practice, the disease control measures already in place, and biosecurity. From there, a written disease control plan should be drawn up."

But she stresses health plans needed time and thought and should be developed with the farms vet and anyone else involved in managing it.

"The most important thing to remember is this is not a one-off exercise. It must be looked at all the time, with ongoing disease monitoring and accurate recording." &#42

A pro-active approach to animal health can increase profits and improve animal welfare, says Anne Seaton.