Herd health plans need to evolve in-line with a changing marketplace and a growing need to improve efficiencies, says vet Jonathan Statham, of Bishopton Vets, and RAFT Solutions.
High herd health and welfare is what differentiates British farms from their global competitors and is something which needs to become a greater focus as we leave the EU.
Vet Jonathan Statham believes focusing on welfare as part of a herd health plan helps farm performance, and is a fundamental part of the ‘UK food brand’.
“If you reduce stress it’s good for efficiencies and farm finances and above and beyond that, we’ve got a brand we need to promote,” he says.
As such, regularly reviewing whether cows are able to express their natural behaviour and live a comfortable life on your farm is essential (see panel).
This should run alongside managing ‘big single agent shockers’ like BVD and multifactorial management diseases, like mastitis.
Mr Statham says there has been a big improvement in the general approach to herd health planning since the launch of the post foot-and-mouth disease outbreak driven ‘Cattle Health Initiative’ in 2007.
However, there is a need to for it to now ‘kick on’. He believes there are three main areas which will become of increasing importance in the herd health planning of the future dairy farm.
Efficient production of quality food will be of even greater importance as British farmers compete with cheap imports. As such, more details of milk quality and production could be included in herd health plans. This could include basics like production profile, milk fat and protein, somatic cell count, bactoscans and thermoduric count (impacting on shelf life) as well as more progressively, fatty acid and lactose profiles.
As farmers come under more pressure to reduce antibiotic use in line with links to resistance in humans, a whole farm approach to reducing medicine use will be essential. Good records and staff training will be a must. Vaccines will play an important role in improving herd resistance to disease, alongside reducing disease challenge through improved environmental management. Sensor technologies, such as eartags, which automatically record calf temperature, and rumen boluses, which track rumen pH and temperature, could also have a role in targeted medicine use and ‘precision farming’.
Reducing farm impact on the environment is only going to become more important. Improving fertility, health and performance all help to reduce a farms carbon footprint through minimising waste and improving efficient production.
Can you manage fresh cows separately? These animals are under the greatest pressure post-calving. Consider setting up a separate group with additional feed access and lower stocking rates so they are able to lie and feed when they want. This can bring big health and welfare advantages, such as a reduction in lameness and metabolic diseases.
Can you make life easier for heifers? Manage newly-calved heifers in a separate group to give them time to adjust. Consider adjusting cubicle dimensions such as neck rail position so they are set up specifically for smaller heifers to promote comfort.
Is your system optimising cow flow? Ensure enough cross passages in cubicle sheds so submissive cows can escape dominant cows. Aim for one every 20 cubicles.