In the fifth in this series looking at measuring success in beef, we look at how herd health plans are often under used but they can underpin performance improvements and financial gains.
Herd health plans have been a mandatory part of the Red Tractor Assurance scheme for several years, but many farmers still view them as merely a red tape exercise, rather than one that could
potentially benefit their business, says vet Sara Pedersen.
She says: “The importance of health planning is reflected in the changing role of the farm animal vet in the past 40 years, from the traditional ‘fire brigade’ role to one more managerial or advisory in nature.
“While the herd health plan is a physical document, for planning to be effective it needs to be an active and continuous process, rather than something discussed on an annual basis only. However, the perception of the herd health plan itself and health planning management is often poor.”
A herd health plan, written with guidance from your vet, can cost around £90-£150 depending on individual circumstances.
Carolyn Baguley, vet at Scarsdale Vets, says this initial outlay is far out-weighed by the benefits a farm can recoup through taking a planned and proactive approach to animal health.
She says: “Herd health plans should be a dynamic process involving the veterinary surgeon, specialist consultants and, most importantly, people looking after stock. These plans are comprehensive and look at everything from infectious disease control to footcare and lameness to nutrition.”
The plan should be a working document, and through proper planning and taking a flexible approach to emerging issues rather than disease firefighting, farmers can be proactive. Correct diagnosis at this stage, with input from a vet, will mean the appropriate treatment will be administered.
For a herd health plan to be successful, it is necessary to understand what current levels of disease are, and Mrs Baguley says it is important to be able to ‘count up’ cases of certain diseases.
She says: “Putting numbers on problems can be helpful. For example, when it comes to pneumonia, farmers may think they only have a few cases each year, but if they actually count up the cases they have had, they may be surprised. Sometimes problems can just pass you by if you are not actively recording them.”
To help farmers do this there are various free templates available, as well as more sophisticated paid-for online software packages. Your farm vet should be able to provide guidance on this.
The plan should consider each identified disease or syndrome and establish ways in which the potential or identified risk factors can be reduced or eliminated.
Ensure your herd health plan is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based
For more information and guidance on herd health plans, visit assurance.redtractor.org.uk
New diseases and conditions can be added to the plan as and when is necessary and it is important to view the document as being ‘live’.
Mrs Baguley also says carrying out the herd health plan allows you to put plans in place for the coming 12 months, and in particular can help to formulate vaccination and treatment plans.
For example, vaccination protocols for pneumonia and treatment plans for fluke are an essential part of herd health planning.
Any time is good to review or formulate a plan, but farmers may consider carrying out the process before the next breeding season gets underway to ensure the next crop of calves gets the full benefit of procedures being put in place.
Source: Outputs from a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council-funded project awarded to University of Liverpool and Scotland’s Rural College, plus funding from AHDB, QMS, HCC and Agrisearch NI