Data from Kingshay’s health manager shows disease and health problems increased in 2017-2018.
Farmers Guardian reports on the long-term health trends in the industry...
Improving herd health can lead to significant savings, according to the Dairy Costings Focus report, published earlier this year by independent dairy specialists Kingshay.
Kathryn Rowland, Kingshay senior farm services manager, says: “The report found the top 25 per cent of dairy farmers saw combined savings of £13,836 per 100 cows from improved health status, when compared to the average, indicating that there are opportunities for producers to invest in herd health and save money overall.”
The report, which is based on actual figures from almost 2,000 herds with 400,000 cows across the UK for 2017-2018, shows the top 25 per cent of farms continued to make progress in reducing mastitis and lameness, year-on-year.
Other health issues did see a slight increase, reflecting the general trend of the season, most likely due to last year’s dry summer.
Tim Potter, from the VetPartners farm group, says it was encouraging to see there was an 11 per cent decrease in lameness incidences since 2015, although last year lameness incidences increased from 38 to 40 cases per 100 cows.
Dr Potter explains that the longerterm decrease in lame cows is likely to be due to farmers investing in infrastructure and adjusting management practices to improve foot health.
He says: “Tackling lameness requires a sustained commitment to management practices which prioritise foot health and there will always be some seasonal variation.”
To access the cost savings achieved by the top 25 per cent of herds, Dr Potter recommends shifting towards a proactive plan for monitoring and preventative hoof care.
“It can be difficult to get on top of chronically lame cows, as once the foot is damaged, a cow is likely to experience repeated problems.
“A routine foot trimming programme to prevent lesions from developing, mobility scoring to spot and treat lame cows early, plus regular foot bathing to keep on top of digital dermatitis infections, will together contribute to prevent cows from becoming chronically lame.”
As with lameness, mastitis is a longterm disease to manage with no quick fix. The report shows somatic cell counts rose to an average of 183 in August 2018, their highest level in five years.
The hot, dry conditions contributing to heat stress were given as the reason behind the increased cell counts and summer mastitis cases. By December, average cell counts dropped to 151, reflecting the strong impact of climatic conditions.
The Kingshay report found an estimated cost of £258 per case of mastitis, so there is the possibility for significant cost savings where mastitis is a challenge.
Dr Potter advises working with your vet to identify the specific risk factors that are leading to mastitis infections in your herd.
“Mastitis can be environmental or contagious in origin, so to get on top of it you need to know what is causing the disease to make the right adjustments which will lead to a good return on investment,” he says.
“If the mastitis infections are environmental in origin, you need to identify where cows are picking up disease causing bacteria. For example, it may be possible to reduce incidences by looking at bedding management and frequency of scraping up.
“Similarly, if the cows are picking up infections from each other, it may be that removing chronically infected cows from the herd or a change to the management of parlour hygiene will be the most effective way to get on top of disease spread.”
Dr Potter adds that appropriate use of selective dry cow therapy has a continued role to play, and again advises working with your vet to identify the best approach for your herd.
Kingshay reported overall improvements in fertility in the last year.
Again, there was a significant difference between the average and the top 25 per cent of farms. The average cost of infertility was 2.31ppl, and was as low as 0.73ppl in the top 25 per cent.
To improve fertility, Dr Potter recommends having a clear plan, which includes recognition of exactly what you are trying to achieve in your herd.
“It is important to consider where you want to be in terms of calving pattern, producing replacements and timings of calving, and to make a plan accordingly.
“There are options for a more targeted breeding programme, including use of sexed semen, genomic testing and embryo transfer, so it is about choosing the option that will help with achieving your goals.
“There are also simple investments that can go a long way, such as including the entire team in training on heat detection and regular refreshers on artificial insemination technique.”