Prevention is better – and cheaper – than cure

Although the over-30-months system will remain in place until at least the new year, getting rid of casualty cows without incurring disposal costs will soon become a challenge.


Petersfield, Hants-based Stock1st vet Jonathan Harwood says that from 7 November producers have to adhere to rules such as antibiotic meat withdrawal periods and EU hygiene regulations.


“Pre-1996 cows may incur a disposal charge of up to 200.”


Casualty cows will be termed emergency slaughter cows.


“But to slaughter one on farm, a vet and a slaughterer must be present.


The carcass must be kept clean and during bleeding, blood must be collected in a sealable container for travelling with the carcass to the abattoir.


“Carcasses will have to arrive in refrigerated transport within two hours of slaughtering.”


Having abided by those rules, abattoirs are under no obligation to take the carcass, making the whole removal process challenging, he adds.


Getting rid of casualty cows will prove even more problematic once OTMS has been phased out. With that in mind, farmers must do all they can to reduce casualty cows.


“Lameness is one of the biggest reasons for calling the vet, whether it is foot, stifle joint or hock damage,” Mr Harwood says.


Downer cows, displaced abomasums, wire disease and difficult calvings are other common reasons.


Where lameness is a problem, offer preventative and effective treatment where possible, he suggests.


“Consider foot bathing seven days a week, when digital dermatitis is an issue.


“And for those who don’t suffer dermatitis, keep it off the farm by taking care when contractors and vets enter the premises.”


It is important farmers do not neglect routine foot trimming.


“If you are not competent in this field, consider training to help keep lameness issues to a minimum.”


He also points out breeding has a part to play.


Farms with lameness problems could consider crossbreeding with Brown Swiss or Swedish Reds, which are proving their worth with improved feet.


“With any lameness diagnosis, start treatment early before infection gets in to the horn.”


One of the other main reasons for casualty cows is downer cows, he says.


Metabolic, toxic, abdominal, nervous and muscular-skeletal conditions all play their part in keeping a cow down.


“Any downer cow is a potential animal welfare problem, so vet advice should be sought after 24 hours of her being down,” Mr Harwood advises.


“Correct choice of sire, improved calving supervision, plenty of lubricant during calving, floor and calving area design and plenty of food and drink post-calving all help prevent cows going down.”


Where injuries are concerned, Mr Harwood suggests paying attention to cubicle design.


“Check length of cubicle, positioning of the head rail and brisket board, which can all be factors in causing injuries.”


When producers suspect milk fever, treat as soon as possible.


“Move the cow to a suitable surface, apply treatment and consider floating it to avoid bruising and injuries.”


chrissie.lawrence@rbi.co.uk