Farmers generally have a positive attitude to disease risk and prevention but there are still some misconceptions and confusion.
This was just one of the conclusions of a survey of more than 400 beef and dairy farmers carried out by MSD as part of the ‘Disease? Not On My Farm!’ initiative. Most farmers, 76 per cent of beef and 83 per cent of dairy agreed with the statement ‘it costs less in time and money to vaccinate than to treat a disease outbreak’.
When asked ‘what are the drawbacks to vaccinating your herd’, 41 per cent of beef and 35 per cent of dairy farmers said none.
But in spite of this, a major cause for concern is that 41 per cent of beef farmers and 18 per cent of dairy farmers do not vaccinate for any diseases at all.
Paul Williams, technical manager of MSD Animal Health, says: “It is interesting that although most farmers agree prevention is better than cure, many fail to act on this. The main reason given as to why farmers do not vaccinate against specific diseases appears to be they do not think they have a problem. But many diseases do not have obvious clinical signs and yet are seriously impacting on performance.
“Disease is endemic in UK herds. What farmers may think is normal or acceptable on their farm, for example, 60 per cent of calves suffering from scours, could be drastically improved if preventive measures were taken.
“Much of this comes down to the fact it appears many farmers are not measuring or monitoring disease, so they do not have any benchmarks as to what their own or industry targets should be.
Creating a robust herd health plan is a starting point for this.”
The survey shows dairy farmers have more contact with their vet, either visits or by telephone, than beef farmers and also measure more. Mr Williams is not surprised by this.
He says: “Dairy farmers tend to have more routine visits mainly around fertility and much of their measuring is as a result of milk recording, but even so they do not always analyse the data produced.”
The survey also found most farmers do not think they use too many antibiotics, but Mr Williams says:
“The whole industry has to work more closely together on reducing disease risk - from animal health companies producing vaccines which can be given at the same time, to vets working with farmers to create herd health plans which include vaccination regimes as well as management issues such as biosecurity and housing. In addition, many farmers will have to adopt a different approach to animal health.
Veterinary surgeon Oli Hodgkinson, of Trefaldwyn Vets, Montgomery, says: “I have seen a big improvement in the approach to disease prevention since I qualified 18 years ago, but there is still much more to be done. Farmers tend to fall into three categories – those who are already taking a preventive approach, those who know they should and are working towards it and a final third, I think we are going to struggle to change.
“As vets we have to try to work more closely with our farmer clients to make it easier for them to take this approach. There clearly are barriers to vaccination which need to be overcome. The upside of regularly handling cattle for TB testing is that other tasks, such as vaccination, can be done at the same time. We should also send out reminders when booster vaccinations are due – we do this for small animal clients so why not for farmers?
“One key area where farmers are not good at disease control and have not moved on is quarantining new animals coming onto the farm and this has to be addressed.”
“In terms of disease we have to move towards ‘predict and prevent’ rather than ‘test and treat’.
“Industry initiatives such as the Johne’s Management Plan which most processors have signed up to, BVD Free and AHDB’s Mastitis Control plan are all helping farmers work towards a preventative approach.
“Farmers have to realise a herd plan sitting on the shelf does nothing for animal health. They have to act upon it and when they see the results of this it will encourage them to take it further.”
“The situation antibiotic resistance places us in means we can no longer rely on cure rather than prevention, in either human or animal health. The good news is there are lots of reasons why prevention of disease is worthwhile.
“It gives us better animal productivity. It means we no longer rely on antibiotics we should not be using. And it will preserve the efficacy of the antibiotics we do need, because what we have now is all we are going to have. Any new antibiotics will be prioritised for human medicine.”
“The standards set out across all Red Tractor’s livestock schemes encourage a preventive approach to on-farm disease management.
“As well as the on-farm benefits of disease prevention, we know from our own research consumers really care about animal welfare and issues such as antibiotic resistance. They want animals to live healthy lives, and want veterinary medicines to be used responsibly.
“We believe by being part of an assurance scheme farmers have shown they have the tools and the ability to implement a preventive strategy to disease management, but there is always room for improvement.”
This article is part of a ‘Disease? Not On My Farm!’ series which showcases proactive beef and dairy farmers taking pride in their robust herd health and disease management approach.
This information was provided by MSD Animal Health, makers of Bovilis® BVD, Bovilis® IBR Marker Live, Bovilis® IBR Marker Inac, Leptavoid™ H, Rotavec® Corona, Halocur®, Bovilis® Bovipast RSP,
Bovilis® Huskvac and Bovilis® Ringvac. Always use medicines responsibly. More information is available from Intervet UK Ltd trading as MSD Animal Health. Registered office Walton Manor, Walton,
Milton Keynes MK7 7AJ, UK. Registered in England & Wales no. 946942.