Learning the hard way about vaccinations programmes
Neil O'O'Sullivan and his wife, Gillian, take no chances when it comes to disease. "Maybe it's our veterinary background that makes us more conscious of all the things that can go wrong, but we've also learned from our mistakes in terms of trying to cut costs on vaccination programmes," he says.
"In 2012 we decided to trial a year without using the rotacorona vaccine, because it is one of the most expensive shots and we had been using the vaccine for a good number of years beforehand. For the first year it was fine, but in the second year more and more calves started to appear with rotavirus scours. After diagnosing these in the lab, we switched back to the standard vaccination programme.
"Fortunately we lost no calves to it, but it did make calf-rearing twice as difficult, and we reckon that all the calves got it at some stage, so it would have also checked growth rates. We don't think that rotacorona was introduced to the farm during the vaccination-free period - rather I'd say that it's just endemic around the farmyard here."
They now take the same approach to BVD, IBR, leptospirosis, salmonella, and blackleg.
"It's definitely too early to stop BVD vaccination when there's still 2,000 PI animals floating around the country. We reckon we spend about €3,100 on vaccinations alone, which works out at about €20 per head, or 1c/l sold," says Neil.
"Some farmers might think that our veterinary costs are way lower because we can treat our own animals but when all the dosing, mastitis tubes, injectables, bloods, milk cultures, post mortems and BVD and TB testing are included, we spend over €5,000 a year, or 1.44c/l, which is similar to many dairy farmers, but perhaps slightly higher per litre in our case because our milk yields are just over 4,000 litres per cow."
They also practice 'snatch calving', which involves the immediate removal of the calf from the mother as soon as it's born and then tubing it with 2-3 litres from our colostrum bank sourced from healthy cows that have received all the jabs.
"It's part of the pilot Johnes eradication programme that we're involved in here. It means that the calf only gets healthy colostrum without the risk of faecal contamination during the first few weeks of its life," he says. "It's for the same reasons that we try to have every cow calving in a separate pen, and iodine dip all the navels."