Farm health planning to fore at revived event - Veterinary Practice
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Farm health planning to fore at revived event

RICHARD GARD reports on the veterinary involvement at the Dairy Event

IF you wish to meet a cattle vet then go to the Dairy Event. These specialists are involved in a wide spread of activities in various locations throughout the two days.

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) arranges the event and a great deal of work was put in for the re-launch, after the cancellation last year due to footand-mouth. It hardly seems a year since the industry was disrupted and much has happened to bring a greater confidence to dairy farming. Veterinary practices are well aware of the future potential and the level of competition for cattle consultancy.

Entries for the show classes were limited to the Bluetongue Protection Zone but seven breeds of cattle competed for the prizes. Additionally, for the first time, there was an exhibition for suckler producers, a sheep exhibition, a commercial goat exhibition and a demonstration of native breeds of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs with emphasis on the management of extensive, low cost, production systems. The event was very much more than just black and whites.

Taking centre stage was the Farm Health Planning Demonstration arranged by the BCVA, with 10 40- minute presentations running throughout the two days. Farmers and others attending the show entered the marquee and from the tiered seating were able to follow the information on a large screen with a close-up camera for detailed practical aspects.

The chairmen, Jonathan Statham and John Fishwick, kept the demonstrations flowing and to time, and the farmers left through a technical support area where Graham Brooks, BCVA past president, was on hand with a herd health planning exhibit supported by other stands. Tea and coffee were free and the speakers were available for close questioning.

Double acts

In many cases there were double or triple acts to put the messages across. It is not easy to offer technical aspects to an unknown audience but the very experienced gathering of presenters made the event flow and put people at their ease.

Roger Blowey gave his all at the Dairy Farmer magazine Dairy Soapbox stand as well, but his familiarity with the health planning audience and his introduction of “hello girls”, to a smiling group of young ladies, indicated a close following for gems about cattle lameness.

Together with Matt Dobbs, the practicalities of cow management to prevent lameness were presented, aided by one of the show cows. Despite urging from six people, including the vets, the walk through the footbath of Klingon Blue was taken reluctantly, with the handler having to walk through the bath with the cow. This was entertaining and enabled various messages to be imparted, such as “get hold of disease before it gets hold of you”.

One of the questions from the audience showed concern about disposal of the chemical rather than the effectiveness, indicating the detail required by the modern dairy farmer.

Andy Biggs and Ian Ohnstad tackled current issues about the mastitis action plan. Interpretation and assessment of bulk milk, cow and quarter cell counts enable farmers to understand more accurately when infections are influencing cell count. It is wholly practical to identify the cows that are going to benefit from treatment and the message is to “get in early”.

Mastitis control today is much more than just parlour hygiene and Ian stated simply that he does not want discussions with dairymen about cleaning cows teats. Housing management and avoiding poached gateways means delivering the cows to the parlour with visibly clean teats. The practical points were clearly appreciated.

There were references to popular icons to get the messages across. Tom Chamberlain and Martin Cavanagh tackled nutritional influences on fertility and Tom highlighted the realities with “no rumen, no cow”.

Intakes the problem

Emphasis was placed on noticing changes in cow condition rather than absolute figures, with two indications that “management may be more important than the ration” and that “diets are generally good, intakes are the problem”.

Keith Cutler introduced a laboratory use for the farmer with his colostrometer to show that the colostrum from a heifer is poor and equivalent to the dilution that occurs with colostrum from a high yielding cow. The close-up camera showed the visual effects.

Good colostrum offers “free” immunity. Keith explained that vets are not usually called out to see scouring calves and there can be deaths before problems are identified. His point was simply that “if the calf dies at two weeks old, you don’t have to worry about Johne’s disease later on”. Adequate care of the newborn calf is often a neglected area.

Old farmer Sibley sold his pregnant cow to young progressive farmer Orpin, with the aid of auctioneer Ben Bartlett (National Milk Records). He declared that the cow had been vaccinated against bluetongue, lepto and BVD and that she had had “a touch of mastitis” but that it cleared up OK and the cow was “healthy”. They agreed on a price of £2,500.


Taking off the farming coats and appearing as veterinary surgeons, they discussed with the audience what had taken place and the realities of “the Trojan cow”. What was missing from the earlier dialogue was information about the disease history of the herd as well as the cow.

Vaccination is not necessarily an indicator of disease freedom and the effects of timing and likely exposure were explained. Although the cow may be healthy, she may be carrying a BVD persistently infected calf.

With IBR virus infecting the nerves of the head for life, Neospora in the cow’s brain, Letospires in the urine and up to 50% of the national herd infected with Johne’s disease, the lesson was to “invest in health, not pay for disease”.

None of the audience admitted that they routinely test for disease and use of the CHeCS (Cattle Health Certification Standards) scheme would offer considerable advantages. Purchasing from certified herds offers considerable reliable protection.

Andrew Taylor brought out the main theme of the demonstrations with “measurement, management and monitoring”. With reference to the Cattle Information Service, the value of milk, blood and post mortem samples was explained.

Support for the demonstrations was visible from the Cowslips team, with suitable hats and logos, and orthopaedic shoes for the treatment of cattle lameness blended in well with much of the practical considerations.

Sheep parasite control was addressed by Leslie Stubbins and Richard Sygall. There are concerns about the weather increasing the risk for production losses from internal parasites. Many people were involved with the demonstrations from a range of organisations and the principal sponsors, DEFRA and Waitrose, will have been satisfied with the outcome.

At the start of day two a presentation was made to the successful students who had submitted essays on herd health planning. John Sumner gave an outline of the thrust of each offering and it was clear that there was a strong awareness of the aims and benefits of herd health planning from the next generation of farmers.

Steve Williams (Metacam for Cattle) presented cheques to the essayists and also an award to Harper Adams where Louise Elliott, the winning student, is studying. Lady Byford (the RABDF president) offered her congratulations and enthused about the topic with acknowledgment of the benefits to farmers of planning for health.

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