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Plenty of conversations in the south-west

by
01 November 2014, at 12:00am

Richard Gard reports on a busy period for both veterinary practices and dairy farmers in the south-west of England with discussions on feet, diseases and the milk price – and the year’s major show.

THERE is considerable activity in the south-west at this time of year. Sponsored by DairyCo to encourage healthy feet, Professor Jon Huxley from Nottingham carried out a grand tour of veterinary practices to discuss the topic with dairy farmers.

Somerset at lunchtime, Devon in the evening and Cornwall the following day: just how many counties and locations bene ted from this activity is unclear but the Devon meeting at St Boniface Veterinary Clinic in Crediton developed into a lively discussion.

Prof. Huxley wanted to talk about treatment options for sole ulcer and the findings from significant investigative research. Some of the farmers, however, felt that digital dermatitis was the bigger challenge and despite explanations that a different university group was conducting research into DD, the farmers pressed on for the latest information.

Adopting the approach that his presentation was not a lecture and that the farmers had to do the work as the meeting progressed, a comparison was made with approaches to clinical mastitis. Farmers treat mastitis as soon as they become aware of a problem, whereas lameness is often left until routine trimming takes place.

A mild case of mastitis is comparable to a mobility score 2 as an indicator of treatment and the message is not to delay trimming the feet of mobility score 2 cows. A rational explanation for lameness is that high- yielders mobilise body fat leading to a loss of the fat pad of the hoof; claw horn lesions follow an increase in pressure on the hoof.

The farmers, it seems, agree with the findings but have difficulties in putting the advice into practice. There is a great deal to be achieved with healthy hooves and the work on treatment options has yielded significant results.

Trim, hoof block and anti-inflammatory appear to be the way forward or, as one farmer put it belt, braces and binder twine. However, “What about the best way of managing DD including design of footbaths, chemicals to use, frequency of application and disposal?”

Rural conference

The county also welcomed the involvement of Liz Truss, secretary of state at DEFRA, in the first South West Rural Conference, arranged by the Federation of Small Businesses and held at the site of the Devon County Show.

Before attending, the Minister had visited the Somerset levels and reviewed the work to manage future flooding. The aim of the day was to consider rural business issues. Various speakers and discussion panels highlighted the role of agriculture as part of the food industry.

The Minister was very clear in her understanding of the difficulties experienced by rural businesses and highlighted the cost of fuel, limited transport links and disease. Recognising the need for a “level playing eld for milk”, she declared the aim of discussing the low milk price situation with milk buyers and sellers.

There were several farmers present and recent local publicity of the failure of bTB badger vaccination, on National Trust farms, to prevent the disease was highlighted.

The Minister clearly indicated that the vaccination of badgers in the presence of bTB was not going to be effective but hoped that an expansion of badger vaccination in “fringe” areas would inhibit disease spread.

After year two of the culling trials in Somerset and Gloucester has been completed and assessed, a decision will be taken on whether further counties and areas can commence culling. It was clearly indicated that the principle of culling badgers has been established with Natural England and it is the development of effective methodology that is up for review. The Minister also recognised the importance of disease in animals as a drain on profits.

Overall there was a positive impression that many of the issues of concern to businesses in the south-west are recognised by Government. In summarising the day, the organisers commented that the NFU was the only major rural organisation that had declined the invitation to take part in the conference.

Dairy show

An established part of the South West Dairy Show at the Bath & West Showground is the involvement of veterinary practices. This year 10 practices were engaging with visitors, each with a different approach.

In the centre of the main thoroughfare Dairy Farmer magazine hosted a public debate on the current situation with the price of milk. Strong words were spoken and the price paid to the farmer was stated as below the cost of production. Demonstrations were being organised.

Just around the corner, Tibbs & Simmons had combined with Combe eld Veterinary Hospital to have a hospitality trailer with cakes and biscuits proffered to disgruntled farmers. The farmers didn’t have to be disgruntled to bene t but the opportunity was presented to offer veterinary support.

Overlooking the show ring were the Delaware Veterinary Group, Garston Veterinary Group and Langford Veterinary Services. Delaware always seems to have a novel activity and this time it was speed milking a model cow to receive a hamper.

For several years Garston has exhibited abnormal or deformed animals taken from their museum of oddities and collection of former veterinary instruments. A visit to see the exhibits in full is long overdue.

The Langford practice also services the requirements of Bristol university and has an arrangement whereby students accompany the vets, with the consent of clients. Some farmers appear to enjoy the student involvement whereas others prefer a speedy visit.

Next to the ring was the Shepton Veterinary Group with trophies and presentations for clients achieving specific results. This competitive assessment is well-liked by many of the larger herd clients and there is always a great deal of coming and going past the stand.

One of the practice’s clients was also presented with the Royal Association of British Dairy farmers Gold Cup for outstanding performance. The herd averages just over 12,000 litres with a margin over concentrates of £2,619 per cow.

Members of the Orchard Veterinary Group from nearby Glastonbury were there to meet and greet clients in one of the avenues away from the main halls. Expertise was shared with Quality Milk Management Services and there always seemed to be many detailed conversations taking place about detection and understanding.

Three other practices were situated in separate areas: Friarsmoor Veterinary Clinic, Synergy Farm Health and Westpoint. Presumably this is arranged so that farmers could pick up tips and ideas from each out of sight of the others.

Automated signalling

Not all were in evidence but there was talk of 14 different automated signalling products to monitor cow activity. Once an activity is detected electronically, a signal is available to be received by text if required. Ingestion and rumination data, heat detection, reproductive abnormalities, point of calving detection, water consumption and temperature are available utilising collars, vaginal thermometers and rumen boluses.

It will be interesting to learn how successfully these new tools are operated to achieve improved health and production.