Award to raise student awareness

* In a bid to raise awareness of farm health planning among younger members of the industry, RABDF and DEFRA are this year staging the Farm Health Planning Award.

Open to students studying at an agriculture college in England, the entrants were required to prepare a 1500-word essay demonstrating their understanding of proactive farm health planning on dairy and or beef units. They were asked to identify the barriers to adopting such a strategy and how to overcome those issues to improve herd health and profitability.

The award was introduced this year as part of the industry/DEFRA partnership’s Farm Health Planning initiative. It was judged by a panel featuring three representatives on the FHP working group: Farmer David Sansome vet in practice Andrew Praill and John Sumner, FHP project manager at the Dairy Event. “Each of the finalists showed a good understanding of the issues for consideration and were not short of ideas for improving the uptake of proactive health planning,” said Mr Sumner.

Four finalists have been selected and the winner will be announced at 9.30 on the second day of the Dairy Event.

Alex Baines – Writtle College

Alex BainesAlex identified education and ongoing training as the key to overcoming the barriers that exist to adapting new methods of health planning after basing his essay on a 100-cow herd managed on a traditional unit in Essex.

He concluded the initial cost set-up of developing a proactive plan was an inhibiting factor, along with the industry’s ageing population, which was renowned to be against change. He argued that farmers needed to understand the benefits of proactive health control and disease management not only as a long-term investment, but also to improve the overall consumer image of British dairying.

Richard Pye – Myerscough College

Richard PyeFinding time to keep the required records and interpreting them was a real barrier to proactive farm health planning, said Richard, who described the approach to his family’s 90-cow all-year-round calving herd plus followers. While health plans were vital for good herd health, many barriers existed between the farmer and making best use of the plan.

Having a closed herd helped considerably, but Richard argued that if a plan was to be fully observed and followed, then all members of staff must be involved. Modern technology, he suggested, offered opportunities to overcome some of the time constraints. Entering all data into a computer program was a prerequisite, while using a pocket-size, personal digital assistant (PDA) enabled information to be captured “on the hoof” for downloading later.

William Wood – Myerscough College

William WoodWilliam argued the case for setting clear, realistic targets in a plan and achieving them through practical strategies, based on a 90-cow herd plus followers in Cumbria.

Published benchmarks for disease incidence could be used to compare performance and set targets, while ongoing training and keeping all farm staff involved in health planning were vital elements to successful health management.

William also identified greater use of technology, such as electronic ear-tagging and recording using hand-held computers, as a means of overcoming barriers.

Robert Yarwood – Reaseheath

Robert YarwoodRobert took a wider, more generic approach and suggested some of the biosecurity lessons from the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak and the current TB issues could be applied to farm health planning. Even where health plans had been written, he warned against complacency, highlighted the dangers of slow disease recognition, of not always adhering to the plan and, most of all, not reviewing the plan.

While low milk price was a barrier, he said producers should focus on the things they could influence, such as encouraging greater staff involvement in developing health plans. Comprehensive health planning, he argued, would also benefit the overall business and help meet the needs of outside interests.

For more on farm health planning at the Dairy Event see p16.

All four finalists in the Farm Health Planning awards recognised the value of being proactive when it comes to herd health, but also appreciated the issues faced by farmers.


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  • Richard Pye: All members of staff must be involved for success.
  • Robert Yarwood: Learn biosecurity lessons of disease outbreaks.
  • Alex Baines: Education and training key to overcoming barriers.
  • William Wood: Clear targets reached through practical strategies.