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Underpinning improvements with herd health plans

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.

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Farmers should put vaccination and treatment protocols in place for at least the next 12 months.
Farmers should put vaccination and treatment protocols in place for at least the next 12 months.

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.”

 

Cost


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.


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Record keeping and monitoring

 

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.

 

Reduction and control

 

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.

Treating the document as 'live'

SMART Herd Health Planning

Ensure your herd health plan is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based

 

  • SPECIFIC
    Use actual measures and observations to set targets, for example, ‘I want to reduce pneumonia incidence in my calves to fewer than five cases a year’

  • MEASURABLE
    Again, ensure you can measure changes, for example, ‘I currently have 15 cases a year’

  • ACHIEVABLE
    Ensure targets and objectives are realistic, gradual and not overly ambitious, for example, ‘I will consult my vet, adapt my buildings and use appropriate vaccines’

  • RELEVANT
    Use objectives that will give you benefit, for example, ‘This will increase my productivity by an estimated 15 per cent’

  • TIME-BASED
    Ensure time periods are realistic and achievable, for example, ‘I want to do this within 12 months’


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’.

 

Vaccinations and disease treatment planning

 

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.

 

Liver Fluke

  • Liver fluke causes overt clinical disease, leading to weight loss in cattle
  • Low level infections are common, frequently go undetected, but affect growth rates and milk yield
  • Calculations suggest that fluke can cost suckler herds between £45-£200 per infected animal per annum; £75-£130 per infected replacement heifer per annum; about 15 per cent reduction in milk yield, and liver condemnations at the abattoir cost processors more than £3million per year
  • The Control of Worms Sustainably (COWS) group advise that treatment plans should take into account unique factors such as farm location, disease history, current season/weather and the types and age of stock.

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


 

Pneumonia

  • Pneumonia is one of the most significant diseases affecting beef producers, costing the UK cattle industry an estimated £50 million/year
  • It is the most common reason for death and poor performance in young cattle from weaning to 10 months of age
  • A large proportion of the costs associated with pneumonia are hidden, such as reduced liveweight gain and feed conversion efficiency
  • Costs per affected animal range between £30-£80, but increase to £500 or more if the animal dies of the disease
  • Impact of pneumonia on a beef enterprise include: failure to reach growth targets; high vet costs due to secondary infections, usually bacterial; average daily liveweight gains reduced by up to 0.2kg/day, and increased days to slaughter and poorer carcase classification
  • Ask your vet to find out which pathogens are causing the disease so that treatment can be targeted and to help formulate future prevention strategies.

Source: AHDB


 

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