I had a cow calving with a head out and no legs the other night and, boy, what a job we had to get a fruitful outcome. During all the huffing and puffing, we proceeded to have a chat on the herd health plans in the excellent new beef discussion group initiative.
The dairy sector is well down the road on these groups, and a lot of improved performance has ensued as a result. Improved awareness may be a better description, as the farmers are now more aware of what the targets are and how to achieve them.
On the veterinary side of things, the herd health plan is an excellent tool for improvement. John Gilmore of Veterinary Ireland, who helped set up these plans, believes that disease is the biggest obstacle to improved performance and that every beef discussion group should be involved.
A good start to the plan this week would be the worming programme. With early grass and a dry spring, cattle, and their parasites, are three to four weeks ahead of previous years. Over-wintered larvae and overwintered mature fluke will also have enjoyed the mild winter and a heavier worm burden is expected as a result.
A new approach being advocated by Veterinary Ireland is to make more use of faecal egg counts. They outline the use of faecal samples to decide when to first dose, along with the benefits of repeating those faecal tests a few days after dosing. This is to find if the dose used was effective, and if the reduction in egg count is satisfactory.
The same would apply for fluke treatments, as more and more often, vets are finding fluke and worm resistance to the commonly used medications. Substantial sums of money are spent on medicines every year, and some of that can be unnecessary or ineffective unless coupled with accurate advice. The veterinary advice plan also outlines vaccination programmes on farms and, again, this week is a timely reminder of the vaccines due this spring. Clostridia in the early calves would be due their first injection about now, while the mothers would be due their leptospirosis and BVD boosters before returning to the bull.
John and his team cannot over-emphasise the importance of correct timing of vaccination and, again, a discussion with your farm vet will identify when the vaccine booster is most effective. Leptospirosis and BVD are two diseases that could affect the cow in early to mid-pregnancy, and to devastating effect.
Therefore, a booster before going in-calf gives maximum immunity at the time of maximum requirement.
Coccidiosis and cryptosporidium in this year's calves may need attention this week, as the winter indoor period allows build up of these two nasty causes of scour.
Again, the herd plan will strongly advocate sampling any early cases of calf scour, as these two diseases require two different treatments and management.
Coccidiosis and cryptosporidium can cause very similar types of scour, and simply examining the calves on farm could cause a mix-up in treatment. Often a scour outbreak is one or other of these two infections, or even a mixture of both. Add in rotavirus scour and salmonella or E.coli, and the picture becomes very difficult to tease out.
Hence the need to sample and focus the herd health plan. In the veterinary world, we are aiming at reducing antibiotic usage, and are therefore reluctant to use antibiotics in each and every case of scour.
Three of the five causes of scour mentioned above would be totally unresponsive to antibiotics, and the other two can be effectively prevented by use of a good vaccination programme. The best encouragement I can give beef farmers is to follow John Gilmore's advice and get your beef discussion group up and running. Healthy herds will reap better profits.
Peadar Ó Scanaill is a vet in Ashbourne, Co Meath, and a member of the Food Animal Group of Veterinary Ireland. Email: HQ@vetireland.ie Tel: 01 4577976