Vets, herd health and ‘cow advocates’ - Veterinary Practice
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Vets, herd health and ‘cow advocates’

in his second report on the 2012 congress of the British Cattle Veterinary Association covers the presentations on herd health programmes and the gathering of on-farm data

THE BCVA congress at Telford in
November had three sessions of
papers running simultaneously for
three days plus two sessions of
workshops each day.

Some papers were presented by
recognisable international speakers
who have spent years investigating and
researching; while a neighbouring
session involved members of
practices that
ways of
the known
science but are under continuous

Presentations about applying the
science evoked considerable
discussion, both during the session and

An advanced use of technology
was presented by Jon Reader of
Synergy Farm Health, within the title:
Mobilising practice data to meet industry
. Each vet within a practice
utilises a “ruggedized” laptop
computer to apply Herd Keeper. Drop
it, step on it, immerse it in water or
excreta and it still functions.

Andrew Cobner chaired the
session and he has had direct
experience of the tool as part of the
TB Master initiative. On-farm data can
be added and by the magic of the
airways updated.

The history of the cow and the
herd, any treatments or actions,
additional information and
observations are on tap. Antimicrobial
usage is particularly highlighted. Foot
trimmers also use the program and
refer cows for a veterinary surgeon

Alan King, Andrew Davies and
Simon Robertson presented various
aspects of Herd Keeper,
demonstrating their particular interest
and input. Analysis within and across
herds is available and one gem was
that 50% of mobility scores stay the
same over two weeks and 50% do not.

There is the option of an area
disease map from disease surveillance.
Set the parameters and show where
the local diseases are located. A now
familiar red, orange and green traffic
light graphic indicates the progress or
otherwise with dates of test data

There was mention during
discussion of a Smart phone app but
for more information visit It is said that
use of this veterinary practice analysis
program will change the way veterinary surgeons do business.

The value of observing animals and then discussing the results with
the farmer was highlighted by David
Main from the University of Bristol.
AssureWell is a collaborative project
with the RSPCA and the Soil
Association to develop a formalised
and structured approach for welfare
outcomes to be included into

assurance schemes.
Outcome scoring as a management

tool has been tested and found to
drive farmers towards people who can
give advice. Underlying the approach is
the ability to promote best practice
even though the farmer does not
perceive a problem.

Veterinary surgeons are invited to
engage with the assessment of welfare
outcomes and to become positively
involved, with communication between
veterinary surgeons and their clients
being so important.

Three-hour assessment

One of the developing areas involves
Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) and the
Dairy Scheme involves a three-hour
assessment every 18 months. Derek
Kennedy of RTA and Oli Hodgkinson
of Trefaldwyn Vets explained that the
integrity of the farm assessment
involves more time looking at the

There is a mix of producer scoring
and assessor examination of groups of
animals. It is a requirement of the
scheme that an annual review takes
place with the herd veterinary practice
to update the herd health plan.

An HHP template is available to
download at it is
free to use and can have the practice
logo incorporated. Reviews, records,
practical measures, welfare
improvements, mobility scores, body
condition, leg and foot lesions,
cleanliness, mastitis, culling, calf and
heifer survivability and how the
animals respond to the stockman are
all included in the assessment. A full
check-list is available from the website.

The Tesco livestock code of
practice (LCOP) is to be taken up by
the 720 Tesco Sustainable Dairy
Group of farmers, who supply all
Tesco-branded milk and cream. Rob
Smith of the University of Liverpool
pointed out that the farmers may adopt whatever methods they wish so
long as the outcomes are achieved.

Once data are collected, farmers
will be able to benchmark their
performance. It is intended to reward
those who consistently perform to the
highest levels. Outcome measures are
produced from on-farm scoring, milk
recording and cattle tracing data with
cow and calf survival included as
indicators of the management of

Full details of the measures are
included in Cattle Practice (volume 20)
and the point is raised whether
stimulating improvements in animal
welfare is really the job of a
supermarket. Clearly, Tesco considers
that its customers have an expectation
that high standards have been applied
within the supply chain. Veterinary
input is seen as highly important.

Unsurprisingly, there were views
and discussions in other sessions with
analysis and critical examination.
Martin Green of the University of
Nottingham and Jonathan Statham of
the Bishopton Veterinary Group
considered that Herd Heath is the
future for farm vets.

They placed emphasis on a
continuous process with regular
contact between the farmer and the vet
with a methodological evaluation of
data. Farm-specific goals incorporate
the aspirations of the client with
measurement of current performance,
setting targets and re-evaluating.

The veterinary surgeon is seen as
the central co-ordinator and facilitator
of change and to fulfill this requires an
understanding of human behaviour.

Time has to be allowed for
assessment of data and discussion and
there needs to be clear, transparent
charging arrangements, whether a fixed
fee, time charged or based on herd
production. It may be that some
clients prefer a reduction in medicine
prices as part of the Herd Health

Underpinning the whole enterprise
is a veterinary team approach. This
includes all the relevant practice personnel, which will mean training
opportunities for both staff and

Mike Kirby from Castle Cary and
Jennifer Hall from St Davids reviewed
some of the barriers to the uptake and
success of Herd Health. Lack of
awareness of disease, lack of staff and
lack of time were major aspects.

Change in relationship

Where the practice has not charged the
client for advice in the past there has
to be a change in the relationship
between the practice and the farmer
and this change can inhibit uptake at
the first stage. The economic benefit
for the farmer of developing and
operating a Herd Health Plan is not a
good driver. Pride in the farm is
important as are the external
appearance of the cows and the herd.
Practical advice resulting from the
elements of the plan is highly valued.

It was left to Chris Hudson and
James Breen from the University of
Nottingham to consider the practical
implementation of Herd Health on the
farm and ask the question, “What does
it look like?”

The plan is incorporated into the
routine visit with 20 minutes in the
farm office. This time is spent looking
at the farm data and discussing what is
known. A major point is that this is a
discussion and not a lecture and that
the data need to be robust, as partial
or inaccurate data can be harmful.

The idea is to get value from the
data for the farmer and to develop key
performance indicators. Progress
within the various areas of health can
then be seen to be improving.

Emphasis is placed on the benefit
to the farmer of a team approach that
involves other advisers from within
and without the veterinary practice. A
wholesome term introduced and
discussed was that the vet is “the
advocate for the cow”.

The practical element is clearly of
great concern in order to convert tick-
box welfare into real improvements in

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