Health plan can add to the bottom line

WORKING WITH vets to develop a specific strategy to give a quantifiable financial return can make a farm health plan more than just a tick-box exercise.

According to industry vets keen to work on preventative routines with their clients, the key is to target problem areas on each farm. “Look at your health plan and make sure it is targeted to your needs and your herd is getting something from it,” advises pig vet Adrian Cox, of Larkmead Vet Group, Oxon.

He believes taking an individual farm approach allows for more in-depth discussion and realistic target setting, particularly when pig producers will be focusing on increasing the quantity of pigmeat sold in 2005 and cost cutting.

Dairy vet Matt Dobbs, of Sussex-based Westpoint Vet Group, is concerned milk producers may also be cutting costs, such as reducing spend on wormers or dry cow therapy, in response to lower milk prices. He says it would be a knee-jerk reaction and producers would do better concentrating their spend on preventative work.

A farm health plan offers real benefit to producers, he reckons. “Don’t just leave it on the shelf in 2005. Deal with health plans in bite-size pieces throughout the year and use them as a dynamic tool to influence future treatments not just a record of past events,” he advises.

“Look at a different problem – the one costing the most – each month. Set achievable targets and deadlines and monitor them as frequently as you can measure.”

Beef and sheep producers could also find a cheaper or more effective way to solve a problem by working with their vet on a health plan, says Kirriemuir-based vet Ian Gill, of Thrums Vet Group.

“Vaccination regimes are the prime candidate. Some producers, for instance, want to save money, so only give a single blackleg or pneumonia vaccine instead of two,” he says.

“This means they are not protecting their stock because the first injection primes the animal, while the second activates their immunity and the timing between the two is critical.”

Including a vaccination protocol in the health plan would make the exercise cost-effective and efficient, he says. “It could include vaccinating calves in batches at set ages or three weeks prior to housing.”

On the sheep front, Mr Gill says an effective part of health planning could be more strategic use of anthelmintics, only dosing when necessary, rather than routinely.

Producers north of the border look likely to benefit from funds to assist in developing individual flock and herd health plans. Moredun Research Institute director Julie Fitzpatrick says negotiations for this pump priming are still ongoing, but it is likely the finance will come from modulation funds.

“Scotland is ahead of the game on implementing the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and this will form a key part of this implementation. The focus will be on assessing the prevalence and costs of disease on farm and helping producers reduce both of these through effective health planning.”