I have recently done the figures for the annual herd health plan and it has been gratifying to record low levels of mastitis, lameness, infertility, assisted calving and metabolic disorders.
With nearly 300 cows in the herd, we have used antibiotic treatments on only a dozen cows over the 12-month period.
Low use of antibiotics is a target in itself, but the really gratifying aspect is the underlying level of health – we have not used antibiotics because our cows have not needed them.
We dump milk from treated cows down the drain to the slurry store until their withdrawal period is over. Then we feed their milk to calves (via a pasteuriser) for the rest of the cows’ lives.
With so few cows having had antibiotic treatment, it is no problem to feed all their milk to the calves.
Very few problem cows have gone ‘up the road’ with mastitis. The number of cows which died on-farm, or were slaughtered on-farm, shows room for improvement, but the overall culling rate is satisfactory.
Overall, I think the health performance has been excellent and the credit for this superb achievement goes to the team. We have got to where we are now by hard work over many years.
We have also had help from other OMSCo farms in a local discussion group. In this small group of like-minded farms, we have had complete honesty about animal health.
The idea of a ‘stable’ discussion group is for farmers themselves to generate non-technical practical and affordable suggestions for the host farm’s problems.
We operate like a CFP group, but with emphasis on health and reducing antibiotics, rather than profitability.
We have all shared with each other our successes and occasional failures. Some pioneers have been doing antibiotic-free farming since before the first contracts for organic milk, more than 20 years ago. Others plunged in at the deep end and soon learned to swim.
In my case, I got in at the shallow end and gradually improved. Progress was slow, but always pleasing, and, in the end, we seem to have got there.