Getting serious about supporting the dairy farmers - Veterinary Practice
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Getting serious about supporting the dairy farmers

RICHARD GARD reports on the extensive veterinary involvement at the Bath & West show

IN 2007 the show season was disrupted by disease. It was a bit of a gamble for the Bath & West to reschedule the principal dairy event in the south-west without the usual stock showing classes but the outcome was a show of record attendance of over 6,300 people.

Because there were no animals to show there was much more space for the trade exhibits and seminars. Within the display areas the Dairy Farmer magazine vied with Farmers Guardian to see who could attract the largest number of passing farmers to listen to words of wisdom.

In each hall there were pharmaceutical company stands including Boehringer, Forum, Intervet, Janssen, Merial, Novartis and Pfizer, with advertisements for POMs appearing in the show catalogue. This show demonstrated many aspects of dairying that would not have been presented even five years ago, including the extensive presence of veterinary surgeons.

Some of the vets engaging in conversation were from the six veterinary practices with displays and some were involved with the Farm Health Planning Initiative stand, but increasingly there will be attendance from vets just to see what is going on.

The veterinary practice stands, as would be expected, contained all manner of technical and interesting information. The Delaware Group offered water buffalo sausages, amongst cheeses and other good nibbles, the produce coming from the farms of clients.

Nick Perkins kindly shared his wares but also clarified why the practice was prepared to be involved in the time, commitment and expense to attend. “We are showing our farmer clients that we are serious about veterinary support for dairy farmers,” he explained.

The Kingfisher Practice from Crewkerne and Chard is a long-standing exhibitor involving both vets and paraprofessionals, with its trademark cow taking centre stage. The practice has clearly established a presence and has had the opportunity to assess the benefits of attendance at other shows.

Shepton, the local veterinary group, had an end stand with a professional display equal to any of the commercial companies and St David’s Farm Practice, from near Exeter, elected to go outside and promote itself with literature and folders of a high standard. Gone are the days of rapidly produced photocopies of illegible information!

No show today would be complete without the Westpoint Veterinary Group. The byline in the catalogue said simply, “the UK’s largest farm animal veterinary practice”. The commitment to meet and greet at dairy shows has been evident from this group for several seasons and the practice principals are at the forefront.

It was interesting that, in a different hall, was possibly the smallest farm animal and equine veterinary practice with a display by Stephen Turner from Pilton, Somerset. The promotion was “a committed, friendly and individual farm veterinary service focusing on in-house nutritional advice to promote herd health and production”.

Also on offer were “organic methods for conventional farms” and veterinary acupuncture. This stand was notable for pictures of the vet carrying out hands-on bloody procedures.

Whether these practices can truly assess the benefit of attending and clarify cost-effectiveness is difficult to know. Following better milk prices this was a good time to be talking about improving margins and becoming increasingly involved in maintaining herd health by better veterinary support.

Clearly, the DEFRA-led “Initiative”, with some 28 projects being supported to accelerate farm health planning, is engaging more and more veterinary practices and their clients.

Throughout the afternoon, within the DEFRA Health Planning umbrella of “Healthy Animals, Healthy Profits”, six veterinary surgeons gave short presentations to emphasise “taking a positive approach to cattle health”.

Alistair Hayton considered the influence of nutrition on fertility and emphasised that body condition score could be used to much greater effect on farm to monitor the consequences of change. Nick Bell drew out interesting observations from the Healthy Feet Project, studying 227 farms over four years. The value was discussed of identifying the cows that would benefit from treatment before they went lame and the means to recognise early foot difficulties.

Peter Edmondson identified key periods within the milking routine where attention to detail would reduce the milking time. This included teat stimulation, batch preparation, correct adjustment of automatic cluster removal to match herd milk-out times, management of slow milkers by having a strict cow line parlour routine and the value of changing liners before the rubber denatures and loses efficiency. Each improvement saves a little which adds up to hours per week and in some cases weeks per year.

Cluster flushing

Around the milking machinery stands the hot product being talked about was cluster flushing. Manufacturers have various adapted liners and clusters to achieve improvements.

Utilising the chairman’s water jug and glass, and a cluster liner that he just happened to have in his pocket, Roger Blowey carefully demonstrated the residual milk that remains within the liner after removal from one cow and available to infect the next cow to be milked.

A second demonstration also worked, thus proving the science, to the amusement of all. A trial of the Vaccar mechanism, on clients’ farms, has proved that residual Staphs in the liner are reduced. Some of the residual levels before flushing were extremely high. The trial is continuing with other pathogens. The point was well made by Roger that the work involved with cleaning cows’ teats is undone if a dirty liner is applied.

Muck was also the theme of the points made by Keith Cutler about the health of young stock. Together with an adequate supply of colostrum, which is often lacking, the first mouthful for the newborn should not be a muck-covered teat. Colostrum from donor cows should only be collected from cows of known health status. A plan for health is required, not treatment of disease.

This led on well to the need to reduce health risks when buying and selling stock, which was emphasised by Paddy Gordon. Care in purchasing pregnant animals, with a calf to be born of unknown health status, is a particular issue related to the BVD work currently being carried out in Somerset. The health status of the herd needs to be enquired into, before purchasing stock, as well as the health of the specific animals.

Practical and valuable knowledge was offered which was appreciated by the chairman and audience.

Preparations are in hand for the next South West Dairy Event when the livestock, and the vets, will be back at the Bath & West Showground on 1st October this year.

If the dairy sector continues to receive a better farm gate milk price, there should be even greater interest from farmers about health planning.

  • John Sumner advises that an essay competition for agricultural students is taking place where the impact and presentation of health planning will be written up. Maybe veterinary practices will ask clients to encourage their farm students to enter. The assessments could be quite revealing.

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