A year of activity and progression - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



A year of activity and progression

What are the current priorities for vets working in the large animal sector?

There is no sign of complacency from those who investigate, collate and report on cattle health. The fourth report of the Cattle Health and Welfare Group states clearly that mastitis, lameness, fertility and respiratory disease are major issues on many farms. However, a certain amount of back slapping happened in 2017 when the EU Food and Veterinary Office investigated dairy cow welfare in member states and found that the UK strategy was well coordinated, and the final report offered no suggestions for improvement.

This has spurred the welfare group to be even more diligent and a specific Dairy Cattle Welfare Strategy is now in place, with eight priorities, aspirations, proposed actions, evidence sources, time scales and coordination responsibility. Within the actions are veterinary practice expectations, which include:

  • Promoting anti-inflammatory treatment in cases of lameness
  • Proactive calf health planning
  • Measuring welfare outcomes on-farm as part of the herd health plan review
  • Continuous improvement in cow comfort
  • Raising awareness of the impact of welfare on farm businesses
  • Encouraging active prevention
  • Recognition and control of mastitis
  • Promoting best practice transition cow management
  • Supporting effective protocols for improving fertility on-farm

Many cattle veterinary surgeons will indicate that they do all those things already, but how effectively and with how many cattle farmer clients?

Antimicrobial use

It is believed that the targets that were set for the reduction of antimicrobial use are being exceeded. In December 2018, veterinary surgeons working with farmed animals were asked to complete a survey to identify diagnostic practices and how these inform decisions to use antimicrobials. The findings will be released in due course and it is hoped that positive direction will be given to those using, developing and marketing diagnostic tests.

Herds with intractable disease issues that have been prescribed critically important antibiotics should by now have been weaned away from relying on a syringe to resolve their difficulties. The British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) has decreed that “the regular use of HP-CIAs [highest priority critically important antibiotics] is no longer acceptable”.

The use of products including colistin, third and fourth generation cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones should only take place where it has been clearly shown that no other treatment options are available to avoid animal suffering.

The BCVA President, David Barrett, is calling on members to make 2019 the year when it can be said that the cattle industry in the UK went HP-CIA free. If anyone has isolated a pathogenic organism sensitive to an HP-CIA and resistant to all other available licensed cattle medicines, please contact the BCVA office.

Culling rates

The cattle tracing system records that there are some 54,000 beef cattle premises in Great Britain (over 11,000 dairy and over 2,000 dual purpose), farming over 8 million animals. For dairy herds, the median culling rate is 26 percent, with 5 percent culled within the first 100 days of lactation, averaging 3.6 lactations at six years of age. The identified reasons for culling from commercial data collection organisations are:

  • Not in calf/not seen bulling/out of calving pattern (28 percent)
  • Mastitis/high somatic cell count (13 percent)
  • Lameness/legs and feet (10 percent)
  • Infectious diseases including Johne’s and TB reactors (8 percent)
  • Accident/trauma/injury (5 percent)

For beef, the replacement rate in suckler herds is 14 percent, with mortality of 2 percent. It is anticipated that more veterinary practices will be able to collect detailed information about the impacts of disease from clients and that improvements in health and welfare activities can be better monitored.

Milk residues

Meetings have taken place with veterinary surgeons at several locations to highlight the latest developments in detecting milk residues. Milksure, Arla and the National Milk Laboratory have presented a package of measures to tackle the milk failures that were reported on 1,300 farms last year.

There are practical reasons why mistakes in cow identification or misunderstandings about withdrawal times can occur, and 87 percent of the failure herds had a single incident in the year. But multiple failures are happening, and veterinary practices are being asked to help their clients avoid the potentially severe penalties. The UK has a higher failure rate than many other countries.

The sensitivity and accuracy of the tests now available enable the sources of failure, including antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and flukicides, to be identified; the true cause of a farmer’s difficulties can be pinpointed, and the herd supported. Different milk buyers schedule various testing regimes, but this whole area of residues is a complex one that the farmer cannot be expected to sort out without technical assistance.

Medicine storage

The University of Bristol has published the findings of a dairy herd study into medicine storage on-farm that has opened a discussion about expired products and doses remaining from earlier treatments. It is suggested that a medicine cupboard health check is incorporated into the annual herd health review.

Expired medicines were commonly found together with HP-CIAs. This is perhaps not surprising if the use of CIAs is being talked down, and so the bottle stays in the cupboard and partial treatments remain, possibly because the animal died or recovered more rapidly than expected. Some farm cabinets also contained medicines not licensed for cattle. A tidy up, clear out and safe disposal of medicines is recommended. Further studies and reports from beef, sheep, pig and poultry farms are anticipated.

Frequency of veterinary visits

It is interesting that the use of antibiotic footbaths and feeding waste milk to calves has been inversely related to the frequency of veterinary visits by a study of Arla producers. The more often the farm is visited by a vet, the less likely it is that bad practice is adopted. Also, the farmers who identified that the role of the vet was to save them money were more likely to have poor standards. Make of it what you will from a limited questionnaire approach but note that many herds utilised veterinary products from non-veterinary sources. This is another area where it may be important to identify what is taking place rather than assuming that all is as a practice would wish.

Vaccine use

Last autumn a campaign to improve the uptake and use of vaccines was launched and the proposals for replacing antibiotics with preventative vaccines is very much in need of an ongoing push from practices. The uptake of bovine respiratory disease and bovine rhinotracheitis vaccines has been seen in around 20 percent of herds despite a 70 percent incidence, so annual improvements are anticipated.

Much has been highlighted about the storage and administration of vaccines on-farm with unintended freezing, expired products and incorrect course administration seen as areas where vets can have a direct influence. There are developing levels of technical understanding with research on T-cells and maternally derived antibody interference with the level of early protection. Ways and means of obtaining the best outcomes will be ongoing, with deep discussions on the benefits of mucosal administration over injection. It appears that the better informed the farmer becomes, the more targeted advice and monitoring is needed from the vet.

Richard Gard


Following a 16-year apprenticeship with Beecham, Richard established a project management and development consultancy and writes regular contributions for the veterinary press.

More from this author

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more