Farming - beyond the hype - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Farming – beyond the hype

VETERINARY PRACTICE
reports on the lively South West Dairy
Show where there was a strong veterinary
presence

AT the South West Dairy Show there are workshop type presentations and discussions that flow one into the other. And so it was that the award to the South West herdsperson of the year (Emma Martin, Bodmin, Cornwall) led into Sarah Pedersen updating progress with the Healthy Feet Programme, followed by Richard Haddock on the future of farming. It is interesting to listen to the congratulatory tone of good practice being supported by the technical issues and ways forward with feet and the regulatory and political platforms that can assist or drag down success. It surprised the audience to learn that the most common overseas visitors are the Chinese, Russians and Japanese. Unsurprisingly, the first point of call is London for the historical pomp but less apparent is that the West Country attracts more overseas visitors than other areas. However, it is not the landscape or the beaches that are identified as the honeypot, but the food. Local food has been heavily promoted and the expectations are high. The drive is therefore for the food producers to work together with other local businesses so that farming and tourism are in partnership.

Lack of thrust

There is criticism of the lack of thrust to obtain PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) for foods. The Federation of Small Business is looking to add the weight of its members (roughly double that of the NFU) to developing closer relationships with farming. Practical issues arising from the early days of the Dairy Co Healthy Feet Programme are likely to filter through into veterinary CPD. For example, some farmers are unsure whether a 5% formalin footbath for one day will achieve the same beneficial effect for digital dermatitis as a 1% solution for five days. Around 30 mentors for the programme have completed the initial training stages with the aim of vet and client developing practical solutions together. When the information is assessed, there are likely to be useful snippets following the approach that the vet and the farmer walk “everywhere the cows go” together. The cow’s eye view of conditions may be quite revealing. There is a great deal of angst regarding the conditions being set for herds to achieve the highest milk price. This should mean greater attention to those factors that restrict the highest levels of performance but additionally there are serious issues concerning short notice changes to the milk buyer’s contract.

Call for greater fairness

Contractual conditions that change the pricing schedule are introduced under “buyers discretion” without negotiation or the opportunity to be released from the contract. There is a call for greater fairness and stability as well as a better price for the milk. Change was also evident around the stands. Many of the well-known veterinary pharmaceutical companies were represented, some for the last time. It will, of course, all be clarified in time but the badges say MSD, with the Intervet Schering-Plough banner overhead. The product titles carried the technical literature, which was probably more important for the farmers. The programme listed the veterinary practices exhibiting, including the Delaware Group, Garston Group, Langford Vet Services, Shepton Group, Stephen Turner, Synergy Farm health and also veterinary specialist promotion by Quality Milk Management Services Ltd. The stands were spread around the various exhibition areas. Certain areas had a greater footfall but farmers seemed to have no difficulty in gathering information and having a discussion. The display of cheeses from clients’ farms on the Delaware stand attracted positive comments. With many private cheesemakers in Somerset, it has to be said that the farmers like a good cheese. This approach also ties in with bringing farming and food closer together. The independent practice approach, now adopted by Langford Veterinary Services as an extension of the Bristol vet school, is
established and combines a training role for students with the realities of practice development and economics. David Tisdall and colleagues were enthusiastically demonstrating the value of herd health initiatives, now established as the way forward for dairy farmers. Nearby, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency was promoting its Herdsure Cattle Health Improvement Service. Here again, a name change is likely to catch up with the banners but
leave the product to progress. The three levels of health status are supported by testing protocols with the aim to establish, then improve, with monitoring and maintaining herd health ongoing. The service operates with the involvement of the farmer’s own veterinary practice. The topic of genetic modification is not prominent at shows concerning food-producing animals but the multicoloured cows raised several comments along the lines of “future cow” or “what have you been feeding them?” The display of various modern types of
milking equipment, by GEA Farm Technologies, included a working robot with opening gates and clusters being put on and taken off the strange cows. Outside was a live demonstration of
robotic milking by Lely with real cows making their way to the parlour as they felt the need. The warning sign rather reminds everyone that effort is required to achieve healthy cows, or is it just a health and safety requirement for shows?

Better beef

A few days earlier, EBLEX (English Beef & Lamb Executive) put on a farm day to look at improving health and performance associated with beef. This took place on a farm that grazes the cattle on Dartmoor for the summer. One of the changes is that winter grazing on the moor is now restricted and breeds that out-winter may not thrive in a housed environment. The herd of 320 is now mainly Limousin and Welsh Black with a few Charolais. The aims of the farm within the South West Healthy Livestock Initiative are to increase pregnancy rates, reduce calf mortality with emphasis on better management of colostrum and to increase the number of spring born calves reared. The current performance is 92 calves born alive for every 100 cows and 88 calves reared. Roger Cunningham (North Park Vet Group) is the farm vet and he attended for the day, including the ride around the stock on a trailer. Roger outlined that they keep the paperwork to a minimum in putting the herd health improvements into practice. A problem of iodine deficiency has
been identified and corrected. Respiratory disease is tackled by clearing out lungworm before housing and blood testing shows up the historical picture of infection with respiratory viruses.
There is a major thrust against Johne’s disease within the programme and this disease is described as “frustrating”. Although the testing is not perfect and eradication may take years, if one cow is sold instead of going to the knackerman, the programme has paid for itself.

BVD control ongoing

With a single suckled beef system it is impractical to remove the calf from the dam’s milk or the dung. Calves are not put onto grass that has been slurried. Bovine virus diarrhoea control is ongoing and when persistently infected animals are identified they often look in perfectly good health. Tom Foot from St Merryn Meats gave a forthright assessment of the problem of getting a good price for speciality breeds. Unless there is a specific marketing platform, meat is meat and supply contracts have to be met by the abattoir. For farmers the cost of production is the main controller and disease is a real issue. A large number of livers are condemned at the abattoir on a regular basis. If there is one rising theme, from the awareness promotions to farmers and vets, it is that there is benefit in being more alert to the many influences on effective animal
management. It seems important to be increasingly aware of more than one aspect of plough to plate production.

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