Developments in dairy cattle practice

An update from the Dairy Show at the Bath and West Showground

21 February 2020, at 9:00am

The Dairy Show at the Bath and West Showground attracted some 300 stands and offerings from 10 veterinary practices. The show is spread over an area incorporating the indoor cattle showing rings, other buildings and outside pitches. It was interesting to note how the various veterinary practices were displaying themselves, from designer stands to mainly meet and greet areas for clients and passers-by. Pasties, hats, thermal mugs and other goodies were available to those making enquiries and neighbouring practice members appeared to enjoy visiting the stands of colleagues. Although some of the machinery and capital equipment stands said that farmers were not making buying decisions until the EU issues were resolved, the veterinary practices were carrying on with business as usual.

Shepton Vets have held a competition involving clients for several years but this year it was the farmers who select the best performing herds. These are not necessarily the most profitable or the herd with the least disease but the herds who have demonstrated improvements. One of the fertility category farmers achieved a submission rate of 66 percent and a conception rate of 51 percent using DIY artificial insemination and a second farm a submission rate of 70 percent and a conception rate of 40 percent using sexed semen. With mastitis, a herd with a difficult clinical history of high-yielding cows in deep straw yards has reduced mastitis by 45 percent and is well below the UK average incidence. Considering milk production, a herd increased yields by 16 percent with an improved return after costs of £140 per year, with the benefits following investment in staff, cow comfort, nutrition and herd health. Targeting lameness detection, together with quality foot trimming, has resulted in an improvement in herd mobility on another farm with the farmer also increasing cubicle numbers and investing in a roll over foot trimming crush. Farmers and vets were reviewing the results on the stand but the overall winner of the cup is being voted on by clients with the outcome heralded later.

Friars Moor Veterinary Clinic has been established for over 50 years and takes pride in being a private rather than a corporate business. The practice contributed to The Parliamentary Review for 2019/20 under the Department of Energy and Environment banner. With 24 vets in the practice and 66 employees, emphasis is placed on retaining staff and employee well-being. The Review text recognises that there are significant challenges and that the fortunes of their farm veterinary business and the local livestock industry are inextricably linked. In 2016, a dairy sheep and goat consultancy was launched and funding has been obtained for an EU project. This year, the practice hosted the 5th Dairy Sheep and Goat Conference on 27 and 28 January, involving industry experts worldwide. Being involved in activities beyond the immediate day-to-day farm health issues is seen as helping to stimulate stronger links between vets and farmers.

Farmers sometimes find it difficult to do the right thing at the right time. The Garston Veterinary Group launched the Garston Proactive Farmers initiative that offers a structured approach to preventive veterinary medicine by coordinating a calendar of healthcare that is bespoke to each farm. Health, production and farm assurance are linked together as an interactive service. The scheme has been operating for a year with a positive uptake from clients. A dairy herd pays £100 per month and beef and sheep farms £30. Initially it was developed by the vets talking to farmers but with more farmers becoming engaged it is client-to-client recommendation that is encouraging uptake. The practice recognises that some farms are relaxed with software, text and internet-based information while others prefer a more traditional approach; this is where the bespoke aspect becomes important.

The increasing involvement of farm techs has been a feature of the Synergy Farm Health approach. With the largest veterinary practice stand at the show there were many technical discussions taking place. An in-depth conversation about the snatching of calves, after birth, indicated that from the calf and dam health perspective there are measurable benefits, but this is one activity that needs to be better explained to farmers and to people in general. Overcoming the idea that a veterinary practice is mainly concerned with farmer profit rather than animal welfare is a serious topic. Lengthy discussions were also taking place about the possibility of breakthrough testing for TB and the option of earlier detection. The ability to test milk is seen as a “game changer” by hard-pressed dairy herds. The general view is that at any one time a quarter of cattle herds within an area are under restriction but for some practices the numbers are greater and the burden of TB is a major limitation to development.

On a lighter note, the Royal Bath and West Society hosted the Dairy Vet of the Future competition. Peter Clark, prime mover of this initiative, indicated that the standard of presentations by the students was highly impressive. The finalists were interviewed and presented a dissertation. The four finalists were Katie Harrower (RVC), Freddie Watchorn, Sophie Wilson and Rosanna Kirkwood (all from the University of Nottingham). Each finalist is now employed in veterinary practice. The winning finalist, who received a trophy and £1,000, was Sophie Wilson, who carried out a project on claw horn disease. She expressed considerable enthusiasm for overcoming hoof problems on-farm.