Students learn the ropes of farm work

01 May 2014, at 1:00am

Graham Duncanson attended a student congress in Bristol on farm animal work and found it to be ‘a marvellous step forward for the profession’ with enormous enthusiasm shown by more than 140 undergraduates

THE Bristol Farm Animal Veterinary Society hosted the Association of Veterinary Students annual congress at the University of Bristol in February: it was a high spot for the profession.

I have never seen such an enthusiastic group. The whole attitude of the attending students, more than 140, heralds a marvellous step forward for the profession. There is no talk now of the Bristol veterinary school not meeting the standards of the RCVS inspection.

The university dairy farm is state of the art.

Not only does it play a large part in the student training but it also makes a profit. Gone is the rubbish idea that veterinary students do not want to do farm work. Gone is the idea that the weaker sex cannot carry out clinical farm work. The message for farmers throughout the country is: “A strong woman is a lot better than a weak man.”

Professor Jo Price, head of the vet school, gave the opening address. She must take considerable credit for the resurgence of the school as it is her leadership which has steered it forward. In 1948 The Loveday Report indicated that as Great Britain required more food it required more veterinary schools to produce more farm vets. Bristol and Cambridge rose to the challenge.

Deer health covered

The congress did not just confine itself to cows, sheep and pigs, although obviously they were the main focus. In fact the first lecture was on deer health and disease. It was excellently presented by Dr Pete Goddard, who was sponsored by the Veterinary Deer Society.

I make no apology for going through the lecture in some detail as the information is not widely available. Pete explained that there are approximately 400 premises where farmed deer, which are totally separate from wild deer, are produced. They number over 35,000 of which the majority are Red deer although some Fallow deer are also farmed. The world leader is New Zealand where over a million deer are farmed.

Red deer stags weigh 300kg with the hinds weighing considerably less at 150-200kg. The stags are extremely dangerous, particularly during the “rut” which occurs in the autumn. Only one stag is required for between 30 and 40 hinds. The gestation period averages 233 days and the calves are born in early summer. Breeding tends to end when the stags have lost 20% of their bodyweight.

Only the stags have antlers. Pete explained that the only exception was reindeer females which also have antlers. The antlers in most species of deer are shed at the end of winter. Their growth is controlled by testosterone levels. If stags are castrated you can get weird antler growth.

It is illegal to remove the “velvet”, the soft initial covering of the antlers, in the UK. It is permitted in New Zealand where it is harvested for medicinal purposes.

The audience was made aware of the danger of the single spike horns found on the 18-month-old males. These are dangerous not only to man but also to other deer.

The calving season should be short as late born calves have a high mortality. Calves should be weaned in mid-September to allow the hinds to be grouped into rutting groups. Deer have a very low replacement rate, unlike cattle.

The sale of meat is controlled by the regulations which control other red meat. Pete stressed that farmed deer were very different from wild deer and this had been brought about by the three Ts: taming, training and temperament.

The main zoonotic disease affecting deer is TB, mercifully this was extremely rare in wild deer. It had virtually been eradicated in farmed deer in New Zealand by controlling the wild possums. On rare occasions avian TB will cause scouring in older deer. Johne’s disease affects deer earlier than cattle and causes scouring in yearlings.

On the whole, endoparasites are not a big problem in deer as there is normally a low stocking rate. Fluke will occur but also this parasite is not a major problem as deer tend to migrate to higher land away from wet areas in the summer when metacerariae are active. Type 2 Ostertagia has been recorded as have lungworm, coccidiosis and cryptosporosis. Pour- on treatment products, although attractive for ease of administration, are not recommended in deer. Tapeworm cysts and sarcocystis have been found in the meat.

As I am sure readers are aware, the cattle warble fly Hypoderma bovis has been eradicated from the UK but the deer warble fly Hypoderma diana still occurs. Deer will get nasal bots, Oestrus ovis, and can be irritated by the horn fly Hydrotea irritans. Contrary to popular belief, deer do not spread Lyme disease. However, deer do tend to increase the tick vector Ixodes ricinis.

Deer will not show clinical signs but will help spread other pathogens spread by ticks, notably Louping-ill virus, Babesia capreoli and Erlichia phagocytophilia. Young deer in their first autumn may succumb to Yersinia spp. Malignant Catarrhal Fever (MCF) has been reported as a cause of sudden death in deer when they have been running with sheep.

Where other farm livestock in certain areas suffer from deficiencies of copper, selenium and cobalt, deer will do the same. However, Pete urged the audience not to give added copper unless the animals had been proven to have a deficiency by blood testing.

Making it interesting

Bristol veterinary school is very lucky to have Professor David Barrett. Not only does he manage to make a potentially very dry subject, “The responsible use of medicines in farm animals”, interesting but he also plays a very prominent role in student affairs. I repeat his call for all of us to report adverse reactions on line.

All of us were enthralled by Roger Blowey’s talk on the recent dramatic advances in our understanding of lameness. My main take-home message was that hoof knives, clippers, etc., might transmit bacteria and so I will definitely be really cleaning these between animals.

Of special interest to the students was the final lecture of the morning by Nick Shorter on Expectations of a new graduate, what the farmers want.

In the afternoons there was a wide variety of practicals and seminars. On topics such as lameness (trimming practical with cadavers, etc.), fertility, sheep, goats and camelids, disease (BVD and Johne’s), chickens (including post-mortems), pigs (interactive post-mortem), VPH and food health, cattle husbandry, and mastitis.

Talking to the delegates, they were very well received and all were thought to be well worthwhile.

There was a full turn-out on Sunday morning which shows the determination of these young people, considering the excellent dinner and ceilidh the night before.

Sara Pedersen and her colleagues from Nantwich Farm Vets started the morning with an excellent seminar and practical demonstration on calving cows. This was followed by a very useful talk on calf pneumonia from a new graduate’s perspective by Oliver Tilling, who has a wealth of experience.

The final lecture was given by Shona Young on the sheep calendar. Shona has a real handle on sheep farming and made many useful new observations to a much-described subject.

In conclusion, this was a first-rate learning experience. All the organisers and the instructors need to be congratulated. I also take my hat off (I needed one as it never seemed to stop raining) to all the students whose enthusiasm and caring attitude should be applauded.

Not only did they enjoy themselves but also they appeared to enjoy the learning experience. They also managed to raise over £200 for the farmers in Somerset suffering as a result of the recent flooding.

I am delighted that the congress will be repeated next year and I wish the Nottingham vet school the best of luck. This was a very hard act to follow.