Health planning ‘warts and all’... - Veterinary Practice
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Health planning ‘warts and all’…

RICHARD GARD joined the thousands who flocked to the NEC in July for the main livestock event of the year

SOME folk, particularly the sponsors, were disappointed that the farming minister was at the showground the day before but unable to open the Livestock Event as planned.

So, without the usual hangers on that accompany such a dignitary, the buzz around the Barclays stand was somewhat muted with rather limited photo opportunities. However, for most of the people attending, it mattered not.

One of the pieces of information published was a survey, sponsored by Barclays, of the current attitudes to GM crops. Basically, 61% of the 625 farmers interviewed indicated that they would be happy to grow GM crops but only 21% of the 2,301 consumers were prepared to support the technology.

Given a choice, 67% of adults would prefer to buy conventional food, less than a quarter organic food and only 3% genetically modified food. The researchers conclude that although the Government has clearly taken an interest in GM crops, it will be up to all involved – scientist and farmer through to the retailer and consumer – to communicate the advantages and disadvantages of the technology.

Informed debate is therefore seen as the way forward before GM can ever become common practice in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Red Tractor scheme changes

Also launched were the changes to Red Tractor Assurance dairy standards. From 1st October this year, every RTA assured farm has to involve its vet in an annual review of the herd health plan.

The vet does not have to write the health plan but the data collected by the farm are to be reviewed together with the performance and health records. The vet also is expected to see some of the cows.

An updated herd health plan template is being written and will shortly be available to be downloaded from

There is also an online survey that will chart the impact of the changes and no doubt comments about the usefulness of veterinary involvement will be forthcoming.

It is also recommended that each farmer mobility scores at least a sample of his or her herd, if not the whole herd, on a six-monthly basis. A consultation showed that 70% of farmers agreed that mobility scoring is a relevant indicator of welfare. If, however, a farmer does not carry out mobility scoring it will not affect his or her RTA certification.

The intention is to upgrade scoring from a recommendation to a full standard in the future. The DairyCo (formerly Bristol University) Healthy Feet project is leading and supporting this development. Information from veterinary practices concerning the uptake and relevance of mobility scoring will be welcomed (

Red Tractor Farm Assurance Assessors will also be carrying out indicator scoring on a small sample of cows within a herd.

The combined efforts of vets and farmers was the theme of the farm health planning seminars. The presentations and discussions included the warts and all.

In general, the farmer introduces his farm details and aspirations and then highlights a problem or problems that needed to be addressed. The vet then adds his appraisal and the usual line is that “we thought it was this, but actually it was that, so we changed tack and now things are better but there is much more to be done”.

Discussions with votes

The combined efforts of the Cattle Health and Welfare Group and the British Cattle Veterinary Association included discussions on dairy cow fertility, lameness, calf health, BVD, fluke and teat sealants. Voting keypads enabled the audience to respond to questions, but personal observation indicated that many people were not able to operate the units within the 10-second countdown.

Robert Ham of Alston Sutton Farm, working with Axe Valley Vets, has been involved with the work led by Andrew Bradley (QMMS) to look into the practical use of teat sealants. The 250-cow herd is “learning to live with bTB” and records 63 cases of clinical mastitis per 100 cows per year.

Applying the magic of analysis, the clinical cases were identified as of primarily dry period origin and therapy was applied to three cell count groups. Cows with a cell count of less that 100,000 cells per ml received sealant only; 100,000-200,000 short-acting dry cow therapy as prevention plus sealant; and over 200,000 dry cow therapy as treatment according to the clinical history plus sealant.

A fall in the cases of clinical mastitis has been noted and the importance of monitoring outcomes was stressed.

There is considerable variation within herds and between cows and clinical cases are “part of a much bigger picture”. Practically it is highly important to be “meticulously clean with administration” of antibiotics and sealant.

Essays on farm management

Charlotte Torrance of Plumpton College and Gregory Steele of the Cambridge veterinary school each received a £500 cash prize, with Victoria Kirby of Myerscough College and David McFarland of the Glasgow vet school receiving certificates. Each student had written a 1,500 word essay on proactive farm health management and the benefits it brings to animal welfare and farm business profitability.

The task was to demonstrate an understanding of the environmental effects of disease and its likely impact on meat and milk quality.

Also requested was a comment on the overall progress of the national health planning and management initiative and discuss the differences among the various livestock sectors and how one can learn from another.

Practice involvement

There were over 450 stands at the Livestock Event plus various displays, demonstrations, presentations and other activities, with much to see and talk about with veterinary surgeons and veterinary practices very much taking an active part.

Clustered around the animal health area were most, if not all, of the pharma companies alongside veterinary practices and a wide range of service providers.

Winning product

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers Livestock Machinery and Equipment Award went to veterinary surgeon Graham Shepherd and his brother Chris who run G Shepherd Animal Health in Lancashire. The cup is presented to the company with “the product that delivers the most economic value to the livestock sector”.

Milkworks Gold was launched at the event and is described as a “unique colostrum pasteurisation machine”. The judges indicated that they were impressed by “the simple to use system which can potentially deliver much improved health”.

The promotional literature for the stainless-steel temperature controlled electric heating system indicates use of the product to eliminate the risk of disease being passed from adult animals to calves. Bags for the colostrum come with screw-on nipples and feeding tubes and allow easy management of freezing, thawing and reheating.

The combination of the bags and the ability to use one unit for complete colostrum management is the stand-out benefit over other products. Further information is available from

Supreme champion

During the two days there were 60 showing classes for dairy cattle with seven different breeds on parade. The supreme champion was Loukat Lucky, an in milk fourth lactation Ayrshire from the Richaven herd, Worcester.

A successful award winner at various events, the cow is one of five Ayrshires kept with 70 Holsteins on the farm. Her lifetime yield is 40,000 litres.

  • Attendance at the event was 15,740, 10% up on 2012.

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