FW Awards 2009: Livestock Adviser of the Year finalist – Dick Sibley

In the 1960s vet Dick Sibley started with a vision to create a preventative measurement scheme for livestock disease.

Since then he has dedicated his time to disease prevention using his role as director of his practice, West Ridge Vet Practice, Tiverton, Devon, and his position on various industry bodies to drive his message home.

“Obviously, our business is providing emergency vet service to clients, but we strongly encourage farmers to pre-book visits with the aim of preventing problems before they develop.”

“I strongly believe the best medicine is the one you don’t use,” he says

“The most successful farmers are the ones who buy in to the idea of disease prevention rather than fire fighting.

“The future health of herds should not rely on medicines – I trust that if I didn’t sell any medicine tomorrow, my business would still survive.”

As chairman of the British Cattle Vet Association in the 1990s, Dick wanted to expand his ideas further. As a result, he developed MyHealthyHerd.com, a web based herd health-planning tool, allowing the management of infectious disease, alongside a disease cost calculator that will indicate priorities for health and disease.

“MyHealthyHerd.com is based around the BCVA herd health plan, in collaboration with NML, and is a practical tool to be used by vets for improving herd health.”

The program is currently used by about 70 vet practices. “The system works on actual figures inputted for specific farms, putting a cost alongside problems. We set targets for farms and identify what can be gained by achieving these targets on a pence/litre basis.”

Dick wanted to find a way to receive some kind of benefit from the improvements these changes would make. By developing a contract on a pence/litre basis at West Ridge, he is doing just that.

“By charging in such a way, the farmer does not pay us any more unless he is seeing the benefit,”

Currently vets can benchmark farms within their practice. In the future it is hoped data will be extracted down to postcode level for wider benchmarking.

The key is to get the preventative message out, says Dick. “At the moment we are selling MyHealthyHerd.com to vets – the next step is to target farmers.”

Although still very much a practising vet, one of Dick’s main drives is creating a sustainable business.

“I want to raise the gain for all my staff while providing an excellent level of service to farmers.”

Dick is also strongly committed to supporting young vets and this is apparent in the range of vets working at the practice. “We always have vet students working within the practice who are involved in surveillance work, such as mastitis and body condition scoring.”

And most of the vets that gained experience in the practice as students have been employed as graduates.

“There is a clear working hierarchy within the practice ensuring a career path for vets. And we always ensure younger members of the team are backed up by senior vets.” Vets also undergo regular training and development.

Dick is also involved in a number of discussion groups, regional fertility training workshops with DairyCo and training farmers in AI. “Via the practice we have also undertaken a number of farmer surveys to generate ideas for farmer training courses.”

West Ridge mainly markets itself through reputation and word of mouth. “Newsletters, farmer meetings and direct contact with farmers are also used to expand the use of our services within the client base.”

What the judges liked

  • Dick is strongly committed to maximising farm profitability through disease prevention and getting the message out to as wide an audience as possible.

Three achievements

  • Passionate in reducing health issues through preventative measures
  • Committed to encouraging and supporting young vets, creating and developing business that will support vets
  • Development of herd health monitoring system

Business facts

  • Emphasis on disease prevention
  • “Invest in health rather than pay for disease.”
  • Development of web-based herd health program myhealthyherd.com


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