How much is too much to spend with your vet?

How much should I spend on the vet? Of course the answer is as little as possible. However, this is only correct when the health of the dairy animal and the profit of the business is not compromised.

Factors that influence how much should be spent include:

  • Cow type and management
  • Stockmanship (knowledge and capability)
  • Biosecurity
  • The calibre of the vet

Available dairy industry data indicate a vet spend (drugs and labour) range of 0.4p/litre to 1.8p/litre a cow – this can range from £22/cow to £160+/cow.

This range is huge and while it may be feasible for a dairy business owner to recruit a team of “milkers” and support them with paid veterinary intervention as the main source of stockmanship, this could be a very expensive practice.

On most dairy farms the key actions for a vet is to be proactive and up-skilling and encouraging on-farm stockmanship.

Cow type and management

The breeding of the cow in many cases must fit the production and management system to minimise health issues – for example, a purebred Holstein on an all-grass grazing system is not likely to succeed, nor may a cross-bred Jersey suit a high-yielding system.

Cross-breeding can improve cow health and reduce vet costs through hybrid vigour; it is excellent for fertility and can deliver a more robust cow that can better fight off infection and disease.

The greater the yield a cow, the more likely the requirement for veterinary intervention and cow health challenges, since more energy is used for production rather than maintenance and good fertility.

Maintaining quality stockmanship

Give the herdsman time to learn, observe and practice animal health routines and protocols. There are three key times for cow health observations:

  • in the parlour
  • in the paddock (or shed)
  • walking between the parlour and the paddock

The stockmen must not be under time pressure while being expected to observe during the above periods.

It is disappointing that third parties believe farmers need educating on areas such as locomotion/lameness/mastitis control.

All dairy farmers recognise that a sick cow represents higher costs and loss of income. They do not need reminding, they need proactive solutions and encouragement.

Our vet practice [Rutland Vets] is not secretive about what its vets do on farm. They run proactive training courses and encourage more ownership of health issues on farm.

The vets work on the basis that a low vet cost a litre and a cow (provided health is not compromised) will result in a profitable, sustainable dairy farm that in turn underwrites the vet business and encourages growth.

Too often vets try to take over the responsibilities and actions that are best placed in the hands of the on-farm stockman.

Herdsmen coaching and support via discussion groups allow crossover of ideas and experiences. This in turn encourages confidence and ownership, resulting in less cost and more timely intervention.

Biosecurity

Maintaining a normal healthy cow and/or heifers will give them the best opportunity to fight off diseases and infections.

Vaccination programmes should only result where there is a high probability of risk – possibly due to mixing of stock from more than one holding – when buying in, for example – or animals that come into close proximity with others on another holding.

Use of sentinel groups is a positive proactive solution to identifying the level of disease present in any group of animals and the disease control strategy required.

Early isolation of purchased stock will undoubtedly minimise the risk of disease transfer by allowing the animals to settle into a new environment with less challenges.

If milk is used for on-farm consumption or processing, it may be wise to vaccinate for leptospirosis to minimise risk of infection.

Overall, using less drugs and seeing the vet less frequently no doubt will reduce your vet costs, but for how long?

If the skills are on the farm and match the demands of the animal, a dairy farm business is more likely to have a good long-term relationship with the vet, along with a proactive annual review that ensures all involved achieve the one goal that gives the maximum cure rate – a happy cow.

Tony Evans is head of dairy business consultancy at The Andersons Centre