Vet checklist aims to improve suckler herd performance

A vet-driven, on-farm audit tool has been launched to help suckler beef farmers address health and performance issues in their herds.

MSD Animal Health’s new suckler herd performance checklist provides a structured approach to help a farm’s vet assess performance across five key areas:

  1. Optimising fertility and managing pregnancy
  2. Getting calving and neonatal management right
  3. Managing young calves: the first 24 hours to 42 days of age
  4. Managing older calves: 42 days of age to weaning
  5. Setting goals and measures

The vet and farmer work through a series of 10 questions within each of the five areas and scores based on suckler herd performance. This allows the vet to pinpoint any areas needing attention.

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Kat Baxter-Smith, MSD livestock veterinary adviser, said: “Suckler producers can use this tool to work together with their vet to help them benchmark their herd performance.

“For example, reducing calf morbidity and mortality rates in a suckler herd starts with management practices before conception.”

Dr Baxter-Smith added: “Use of the checklist approach is also helping to reduce the need for antibiotics use through the implementation of preventative health practices such as vaccination.

“What’s more, repeating the checklist every six or 12 months helps keep things on track, allowing both parties to monitor progress against agreed targets.”

Proper management protocols

Emphasising the need for the audit tool, Dr Baxter-Smith said: “Optimum performance requires following proper management protocols throughout the youngstock period from birth to weaning, including effective colostrum administration, vaccination, nutrition and hygiene.”

However, MSD’s 2018 National Youngstock Survey highlighted that, while most farmers rated their management practices at seven out of 10 in these crucial areas, many were falling short.

“In the surveyed farms, 83% left colostrum to natural suckling only and 79% never checked colostrum quality,” said Dr Baxter-Smith.

The survey also suggested a need for farmers to engage more with their vets during disease outbreaks.

While 72% experienced scour and 34% experienced mortality due to scour, only 41% had the cause of scour diagnosed.

“The findings were similar for pneumonia cases: 57% experienced pneumonia, which caused 34% to experience mortality. However, fewer than 30% of those surveyed had the cause of pneumonia diagnosed,” she said.

Farmers interested in finding out more about the on-farm audit tool should contact their vet for further information.