Aiming for 'best practice' on dairy enterprises - Veterinary Practice
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Aiming for ‘best practice’ on dairy enterprises

Richard Gard spent a day on a Cornish farm to hear about some of the many research projects currently under way on production, welfare and disease problems on dairy farms

THE DairyCo research day, on a farm near Launceston, offered dairy farmers the chance to learn and question many of the researchers and specialists they are funding through the milk levy.

Ray Keatinge, head of research and development, introduced the day and pointed out that since 2011 there have been two streams of work in place on Health, welfare and nutrition and Soils, forage and grassland. These five-year programmes involve 50 individual projects and DairyCo currently supports more than 20 PhD students involved with dairy-related topics.

The researchers were positioned at different locations within the farm and the farmers visited each in small groups. A shepherd was appointed to each group and when the hooter sounded their job was to get the group to the next station.

It sounds a little like going back to primary school but it all seemed to work and there was the opportunity to seek out individuals later for specific queries. Some veterinary surgeons also attended and it seems important to be aware of what is being promoted and discussed.

A booklet published in July, DairyCo Research: Your levy – Your future, contains poster-type details of many of the projects and is available from Partnership organisations mentioned include RVC, University of Nottingham, University of Liverpool, Harper Adams University, University of Exeter, University of Reading, SRUC, University of Bangor, Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board, Aberystwyth University and Moredun Research Institute.

Part of the exercise appears to be offering confidence in research for the farmers but also confidence in food production for consumers. At around the same time the results of the horse meat analysis in beef products throughout the EU, from the first six months of this year, showed a fall in incidence.

In 2013, some 193 samples from 19 countries were found to have contaminated beef products compared with 16 samples from six countries this year. No positive tests, from the official samples, were identified in the UK in either year. The inclusion of horse meat is targeted as fraud and test failures are being investigated by the authorities.

Additionally, the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Algeria and Tunisia from a “new strain of virus” is seen as a threat to the EU’s FMD-free status. The European Commission is making available 1.1 million doses of vaccine for cattle, sheep and goats. No live animals or animal products are being imported into the EU from those countries and meat and milk products in baggage are being confiscated.

For the farmers on a hot day in Cornwall the wider problems of agriculture were not being considered. Clearly, each farmer was being asked to consider the production, welfare and disease problems within their particular enterprise. Despite the interference of a noisy delivery of bulk feed, Karen Bond overcame the blower to highlight the transmission of Johne’s disease.

Emphasis was placed on calves becoming infected within the first two weeks of life with clinical signs showing after three to five years. The need for cleanliness and the reduction of faecal contamination was clarified with questions about whether colostrum carried the bacteria from the cow or whether the issue was dirty teats and poor hygiene with colostrum collection.

The project is developing best practice to prevent the spread of Johne’s with the results from six herds being analysed as examples. Disease testing was discussed with the need to be accurate about the specific herd situation and adapting a testing regime that will deliver a true indication of risk from purchasing heifers. The project will develop into knowledge transfer with planned involvement in 2015.

Continuing with calf disease issues, a video on controlling cryptosporidiosis is available from DairyCo with the involvement of Moredun and recognition that older calves and adult cattle can shed the parasite and act as a source of infection for young calves. Cryptosporidium is considered to be the main cause of enteritis in calves.

Environmental control is essential and needs to recognise that a limited number of disinfectants are effective and the oocytes are resistant to heat with survival for a year on farm. There is no vaccine and a single treatment from birth that reduces shedding. Effective diagnostic tests are readily available to the farmer through a veterinary practice. The early recognition of the risk of disease to a herd was discussed, rather than reacting to clinical outbreaks.

The role of hoof knives in the spread of Tremones and the incidence of digital dermatitis was seen by some of the farmers as an issue for veterinary surgeons and hoof trimmers. However, the ability to detect the organism is now opening up other investigations.

The bacteria have been found deep in the follicles and repeated treatment is required to eliminate them. Slurry has appeared to be a likely habitat for the organism and now the tests have yielded positive results. The management of footbaths was discussed and this is clearly a difficult topic for many farmers.

The hoof knife project has expanded and practical developments for better  disease control, including genetic links, are anticipated. A key question concerns the desirability to breed from cows that are suffering digital dermatitis.

New spring calving index

DairyCo is soon to launch the £SCI (spring calving index). This is a genetic index to help breed a cow that suits a spring block calving system and makes extensive use of grazed grass.

The aim is to breed a cow producing lower volumes of milk of a higher quality with a particular emphasis on fertility and ease of calving, to maintain a tight calving block. The index favours bulls siring a smaller cow with lower maintenance requirements. As with the £PLI (pro table lifetime index), launched 15 years ago, lower somatic cell count, sound legs, feet and udders are factored into the selection. Many spring calving herds use more than one breed of bull so the index incorporates cross-breeding data and the genetic potential of bulls from different breeds can be compared. Further information is available on the website,

Many veterinary practices now have members who have undergone the DiaryCo mastitis control plan training to become “plan deliverers”. Software is available to help them to produce a unique action plan for each farm incorporating preventive approaches,  responsible use of medicines, good animal welfare and a positive image of dairy farming to the consumer.

Andy Stokes of Penbode Vet Group was on hand to talk about the local impact of the plan. He shared an information station with Pete Down and Peers Davies from the Nottingham vet school. There are issues with compliance and data indicate that the stronger the uptake of the recommendations, the greater the reduction of the rate of new infections in the dry period and in lactation from environmental organisms.

For any one farm the plan was described as an “evolving beast”  with continuous updating of the data available on farm. What is meant by a clinical case of “dry period origin” was discussed and there was some confusion about cows with “clinicals” after calving and whether the infection entered at calving rather than during  the dry period. Specific tools are available to resolve understanding of exactly what is being recorded and interpreted.

The work at Nottingham, on Strep. uberis, has shown that there are many strains of the organism and that contagious strains are being assessed for the effect on cell count and other factors. Particular strain activity and behaviour is being integrated with other collected data and the project is expected to guide further improvements in understanding and disease control.

It was an intensive day with other project stations to be visited before and after lunch. On the way back to the cars one of the farmers commented that there were “very good pasties”. High praise indeed for a rural event in Cornwall.

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