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Difficult issues for cattle keepers

by
01 July 2015, at 12:00am

RICHARD GARD reports on the latest developments in the dairy industry and looks forward to the calendar of events which promise some keen points for discussion

VETERINARY surgeons in cattle practice may be aware of the ban on the use of dairy cow products containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs or Quats). This has arisen because of the risk of concentration as the milk passes along the manufacturing chain.

So, a minute quantity in the milk becomes a possible risk to babies from milk powder or to cheese consumers. The milk buyers have encouraged farmers to stop using “risky” products. These include foot bathing solutions, general disinfectants, some udder wipes and some udder creams.

Manufacturers have withdrawn products or, in some cases, reformulated. However, for the farmer it is not so easy to be certain that the products being used on the herd are hazard-free.

With medicines, veterinary surgeons and farmers are familiar with the data sheet content which provides essential information. However, products that do not make medicinal claims are outside the responsibility of the VMD and come under the regulations for chemicals.

Chemicals are classified by their hazards and labelled accordingly to indicate likely damage to our health or the environment. The REACH regulations (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) apply, with the introduction of CLP pictograms (Classification, Labelling and Packaging) that will be added to all products that contain chemicals by June 2017.

Increasingly packaging will appear with a skull and crossbones or an exclamation mark for hazard severity. However, veterinary surgeons may be involved in conversations with farmers about this as part of the Red Tractor assessments and may wish to familiarise themselves with the facts.

The new regulations are EUwide and so imported products and UK manufacture will have the CLP identifiers. Any hazards identified refer to the operator, not the cow or the consumer; typically skin inflammation, difficulties if the product is ingested or eye irritation. Inclusion of a biocide, for example, means a skull and crossbones label.

Already some advisers, having considered a REACH safety data sheet for a product, have interpreted the hazard identification as a threat to the milk. Farmers have been concerned that their milk will not be collected. For products that are not veterinary medicines, further concern and confusion can be anticipated.

The overarching body in the UK is HSE and much information is available on its website about CLP/REACH. The other body to be involved is the Food Standards Agency, which will provide further understanding about the risks to consumers. It will probably be left to the veterinary surgeon to satisfy the concerns of farmers and milk buyers. (Many thanks to various industry representatives for clarification of the issues.)

Other titles and labels are also changing with the rebranding of the levy-funded bodies. It is all part of the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board’s “wider journey to deliver improved benefits for levy payers”.

Changing face of the industry

EBLEX is now AHDB Beef and Lamb, BPEX is AHDB Pork, HDC is AHDB Horticulture, DairyCo is AHDB Dairy, HGCA is AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, and the Potato Council is AHDB Potatoes. Hopefully website searches will automatically convert the old titles to the new. Maybe the DairyCo pens, given out previously at various meetings and gatherings, will become collectors’ items.

The agricultural show season is in full swing and the Agriculture Minister, George Eustice, has attended local events and is continually asked the same question: “what are you going to do about the milk price?”

I’m sure he would be grateful for any constructive suggestions and an announcement is anticipated at the Livestock Event (formerly the Dairy Event – 8th and 9th July, NEC, Birmingham). This year there will be considerable emphasis on the combined role of the farmer and the farm veterinary practice to maintain healthy herds for better productivity.

The Cattle Health and Welfare Group has organised a series of Health Planning Seminars involving a vet and his/her client to explore the practicalities of a range of topics including fertility, mastitis, calf rearing and BVD control. The British Cattle Veterinary Association is providing a chairperson for each session, throughout the two days, and people simply turn up and join in.

Trying to get across the essentials of each topic in a few minutes is challenging and so the more practical elements of advancing herd health will be emphasised. There will be a screen for facts and figures but the direction is towards discussion. In past years the interaction between audience and presenters has proved to be worthwhile entertainment, as each farmer is primarily interested in his specific situation, not national or global incidence.

Foot trimming in focus

Four foot trimming demonstrations are taking place each day. With a camera focused on the hoof, every detail is projected onto a large screen, with many farmers preferring to crane for a direct view, while listening to the commentary.

There is much to understand about routine trimming and considerable debate about the application before and after calving; also heifers as well as milking cows. The practical aspect of foot trimming is to be part of the Healthy Feet Workshops that include the latest understanding and research.

There is a thrust for the herd management to understand why lameness has developed and then to take a structured approach towards rectifying any problems and this will form one of the workshops. Considerable experience has now been gained in applying the mobility assessment programme towards identifying lame cows by mobility score and finding preventive solutions.

The management of foot bathing to achieve good hoof care, as well as environmental protection, is an important issue with a great deal of detail involved in design and implementation.

Claw length – one size does not apply to all – when trimming hooves is the subject of recent research with the recommendation that the standard should be changed and training manuals re-written. This may need veterinary support before the foot trimmers adopt a change to their familiar routine.

Practices that offer paraprofessional foot trimming services may lead the discussion. Many of those practices will be exhibiting at the show so there will be an opportunity for pointed discussion.

Less controversially, the link between body condition score and lameness will form another workshop. Do lame cows become thin or thin cows become lame? has been a discussion point on many occasions. The research indicates that thin cows are often at greater risk from lameness and that better condition is beneficial. Best practice on farm, for body condition throughout the year, is due to be reviewed.

This year the show is also emphasising beef, cattle and sheep with show areas for the various breeds and societies. Performance championships and competitions will be ongoing with over 600 animals being exhibited.

A specific exhibit on calf rearing will show calves within the various housing options together with seminars on feeding and management. One of the main findings from past welfare reports has been the high wastage and poor performance of calf care on-farm. Achieving greater attention to the calf, from pregnancy through to final rearing, is now viewed as a major area for attention.

Robots

Automation has been a theme for development for many years and the robotic milking and feeding options will be on display. An Association of Robotic Milkers is being launched on day one with drop-in sessions to explain the benefits and ambitions.

As one of the early adopters explained, “the first thing is to put away your screwdriver and not attempt to meddle with the settings”. This and other advice will be warmly received. Also to be launched is Women in Dairy. If this follows other similar groups, there should be a high veterinary membership