Despite the tough times, disease prevention and bio-security remain crucial to herd health and to minimising any financial impact they may have. Bruce Jobson reports.
With the present strain on dairy farm finances, the instinctive reaction for many farmers is to strip out cost from their businesses in an attempt to maintain some form of equilibrium in this volatile and difficult environment.
Infectious diseases such as Johne’s disease, Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) all pose an on-going threat, and these threats will not disappear overnight just because the economics of dairy farming have changed.
According to Promar’s Andrew Suddes, such infectious diseases inevitably lead to one or more consequences, such as depressed yields and increased replacement rates leading to more youngstock, all of which have an impact on the bottom line.
“This will inevitably lead to a decrease in feed efficiency and an increase in veterinary costs for both the dairy herd and the youngstock replacement animals, in order to treat a problem – rather than prevent one,” says Mr Suddes.
According to Promar figures (see table), the following example of two farms demonstrates the financial losses which can be incurred due to BVD.
The first farm operates a strict disease control policy and works closely with the vet to keep disease out, while the second farm is an example of what can happen to a business when infectious diseases such as BVD, IBR and Johne’s remain uncontrolled.
“The difference between the gross margin per cow is £171 and over a herd of 200 cows, this means a lost margin of £34,200 per annum. This equation obviously does not include the time involved from the manager’s point of view in managing a disease challenge, not to mention the stress that it inevitably brings upon farm staff,” explains Mr Suddes.
“BVD is the most economically significant of these diseases – and has an immense impact on reproductive performance. BVD also causes immunesuppression which can make animals more susceptible to other diseases; this can be a particular problem in young stock by increasing the risk of diseases such as calf scour or pneumonia.”
Mr Suddes says that the current milk price is obviously having a significant negative impact on many businesses, and the need to implement procedures is more complex than simply reducing costs by not paying attention to maintaining herd health.
While there are many items within a business which need to be curtailed, the focus on technical performance must be maintained if not actually increased. Vet Matt Yarnall, technical cattle manager at the pharmaceutical company Boehringer-Ingelheim, urges businesses to consider disease prevention as an investment rather than a cost.
He says: “The control of infectious diseases such as BVD is one of these important areas and working with the farm vet to establish the status of the individual farm is an important starting point.
“BVD control is particularly important to prevent the birth of persistently infected or PI calves. These calves become infected when their dam is in the early stages of pregnancy, and they will go on to shed huge amounts of the virus for the rest of their herd lives.”
Mr Yarnall says farmers implementing vaccination as part of BVD control will crucially ensure females are protected before becoming pregnant.
Fitting routine vaccination into an already busy farm schedule can often be a challenge, but if prevention is overlooked and animals are not fully protected prior to becoming pregnant, businesses will not get the return on investment.
|Disease controlled||Disease prevalent|
|Milk yield per cow||9,000 litres||8,600|
|Rolling annual average milk price||26ppl||26ppl|
|Vet and med costs||£100||£65|
|Herd replacement costs||£250||£300|