Veterinary medicines are just one part of a much wider approach which should be adopted in keeping animals healthy. Gloucestershire vet Chris Watson explains his case.
When times are hard you look at all your business costs in detail, and our Farm Animal team routinely reviews veterinary spending with clients – especially spending on medicines.
In nearly all cases the core issue is not simply what drugs cost but, much more importantly to, make sure you get good value out of what you do spend.
Over all our large animal clients, around 60% of the total veterinary spend with the practice is on medicines in one form or another.
Dairy herds spend even more, as you would expect, with, on average, about 65% of their total health budget.
Medicines not only have a high unit cost to purchase but also have hidden costs in administration, wastage and withdrawal periods. The heart of the issue is the need to consider whether the medicine used is producing a measurable benefit for the animal not only in terms of its health and welfare but also in terms of the economics of production.
We regularly look at the dairy herd’s annual veterinary medicine spend and the first task is to break it down into distinct treatment areas by the type of drug used. Many drugs are only used in clearly defined situations such as drying off, vaccination or fertility treatment.
That leaves the big unknown. What is the medicine use in sick animals? By difference we can find that the bulk of the ’rest’ will, on the whole, be related to general disease use on the farm. The truth is that the biggest proportion – over a third – of all medicines is used on sick animals which cannot be good news, best practice, or even economic sense.
The simple message for clients is to review medicine use and ask are they being used efficiently and effectively and what can be done to get better results with less expense.
The first step is to draw up an effective protocol for each farm disease situation and this can be expanded into a farm code of practice.
Start by defining the disease with a simple list of signs and symptoms and how to grade the disease. So often timing of treatment can make a huge difference in the choice of drug, the quantity, and the success rate.
Set out which drugs are to be used and how. Do not leave it to personal choice because if we are not getting results we can go back and at least you know where you are starting from.
Train staff so they know what to look out for in spotting problems and to use the correct drug dose and route of administration. With fertility control and dry cow therapy monitor response to make sure they are producing results.
With vaccines assess the relevant herd disease status and then the risk factors present before deciding on a policy. You must know what diseases you have and the risks of getting them before deciding on, and justifying, preventative vaccination.
Finally, all veterinary practices will give advice on the drugs they supply but ask for a review and make sure you are using the right drug, on the right animal, at the right time and for the right reason.