Putting a solid herd health plan in place now can yield big savings over the winter

Eamon O'Connell

The dark evenings since the clocks went back have brought with them the beginning of winter.

Feed is a scarce and expensive commodity, and cattle prices are nothing to write home about. With this in mind, many farmers are looking to cut down on costs wherever possible. 

The cost of animal health products and services are always firmly in the cross-hairs when it comes to trying to save money.

If you spread fertiliser, the grass grows. If you feed meal, the animal puts on weight.

But when you spend money on animal health, it is often to prevent something from happening, so the results are not as obviously apparent. Before making any rash decisions, however, it is worth looking at the bigger picture: a little spent now could save a lot more in the not too distant future.


Cutting out vaccines can seem like an easy cost-saving initiative. The price of each vaccine is readily available to see and of course, it is one less job to do if the cattle don’t have to be injected.

But it might be worth taking a minute to consider the cost-benefit of a vaccination strategy.

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Take salmonella for example. It costs €5.50-€6 to vaccinate an animal, which many people say is quite expensive. However, recent studies have shown that if an unvaccinated herd is exposed to salmonella, it can result in a reduction in annual profits of over €100 per cow based on a milk price of 33c/litre.

This makes the cost of the vaccine seem a lot more reasonable.

A vaccination protocol for weanlings in the autumn can also seem expensive on first viewing. Depending on products used, a full vaccination programme can cost up to €15 per animal. But if you think of the price of one quality weanling bull that dies from a case of pneumonia, it would buy an awful lot of vaccine.

If there is a doubt about the risk of any preventable disease in a herd, samples can be taken by your vet to determine the level of herd exposure and if vaccination is needed.

All vaccines should be kept refrigerated until ready for use.


The mild, humid weather has resulted in the emergence of parasites, especially lungworm. We have seen an increase in the incidence of dairy cows coughing in the past few weeks. Calves too have begun to cough.

Rather than buying the cheapest dose or using whatever is left in the medicine cabinet, it is worth first taking samples to ascertain what is causing the problem.

Dung samples are useful in young stock as they will reveal what level of worm infestation is present and, if the animals were dosed recently, how effective the product was in killing the worms.

A bulk milk sample will show the level of exposure of cows to worms. It will also give an idea of how milk production will be affected.

A heavy burden of worms can reduce milk production by up to two litres per cow per day. In a 100-cow herd this year, that can mean a loss of over €400 per week. The price of a wormer with no milk withdrawal could be paid back in a week, based on these figures.

Even though this year has been extremely dry for the most part, watch out or  fluke at housing. Dung samples will tell if a fluke dose is needed.

Dry Cow therapy

Dry cow tubes cost from €4/cow up to €12/cow, depending on the type of tube and if a sealer is being used. There is a tendency to buy tubes based solely on price, or to buy the same as every year from the travelling sales rep.

The bacteria causing increased SCC and the antibiotics that are effective against them can change from year to year. Taking a few samples from mastitis cases or chronic SCC cows will allow your vet to advise you on the best tube to use for your herd.

In a farm with 100 cows, recent studies have shown that if the average yearly SCC rises from less than 100,000 to greater than 200,000, farm profit can be reduced by up to €15,000.

With any purchase, it is important to do your homework. This is especially true when it comes to animal health.

More often than not, with the right advice, and the right product, a little spent now can save an awful lot later.

Eamon O’Connell is a vet at the Summerhill Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

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