Many farmers are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to disease risk and the need to vaccinate.
According to MSD Animal Health estimates of vaccine sales in the UK, just 22% of beef and dairy herds vaccinate for pneumonia, and 14% for neonatal disease such as scours. This means a large proportion of farms are going unprotected.
Paul Williams, MSD Animal Health UK technical manager for ruminants, says rather than waiting for disease, farmers should take a proactive approach.
“Vaccination can be used to limit the impact and spread of disease, but it’s better to be ahead of the game and establish a preventative approach,” he says.
MSD Animal Health carried out two surveys of 1,001 vets and farmers across the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain in 2015. The survey identified three categories when it came to attitudes to vaccination.
These farmers cannot see the benefits of vaccination or do not see the risk. You need to assess risk and accurately record the actual level of disease on your farm. Also, look at how comfortable you are with the risk of disease entering a naive herd versus the cost of vaccination. Vaccination as part of a herd health plan gives some kind of insurance to mitigate risk.
These farmers recognise they have disease or the risk of disease being brought in, but do not vaccinate due to the perceived complexity of vaccination programmes. It is better to protect yourself against disease, so sit down with your vet and get them to tailor a vaccination programme for your farm. Also, consider using a vet technician to take responsibility for the vaccination programme itself.
Some farms may have started a vaccination programme but not continued due to the lack of perceived improvement, or in the belief vaccination is no longer necessary due to low disease levels. To ensure the best results, using vaccination as part of a herd health programme is essential, as is continuing to protect your herd (see panel).
Paul Williams dispels some myths around farm vaccination programmes.
1) If I vaccinate, I do not need to do anything else to control disease: Vaccinating alone will not solve a disease problem. It is essential it is carried out as part of a whole farm herd health plan.
2) I do not need to vaccinate all of the animals on-farm: The aim of any vaccination programme is to protect the whole herd, rather than an individual. For example, if you only vaccinate heifers, when they enter the adult herd, the disease challenge may be so high (because cows are unvaccinated) you get a disease breakdown in heifers.
3) I have not noticed obvious disease on my farm, so there’s no need for me to vaccinate: Some diseases (such as BVD) don’t always produce overt clinical signs in animals, so it may not be clear if there is disease present.
4) It does not matter when I vaccinate: Vaccine timings are vital. If a booster is delayed or missed, the vaccine may not be able to stimulate the appropriate immune response, potentially leading to disease.
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