I am going to discuss the basic approach to adopting a herd health plan that I use in practice. Each farm and enterprise, whether suckler farmer or finishing cattle, can have a comprehensive plan developed around this model.
1. Farm details and performance targets.
2. Biosecurity plan: This should include protocols for bought-in stock, farm boundaries and visitors.
3. Current disease status: This should contain all known knowledge of disease on farm, current and past records. May include any suggested targeted blood sampling or results of any stock screening carried out.
4. Issues for the forthcoming year: This section should have areas on farm which have been picked out for immediate attention or action. An example of this would be pneumonia, fertility, weanling performance etc.
5. Livestock management and routine procedures: This outlines the tasks to be carried out on a monthly basis and should be updated regularly.
This is an example from one of our suckler farms that calves in March/April:
February: ensure all calving boxes have been cleaned out thoroughly and disinfected. Clean all calving equipment and ensure ropes, lubricant, navel dip (chlorohexidine) and pain killers on farm before calving commences.
Keep cows udders as clean as possible in lead up to calving. Cows to be given Rotavac-Corona four to six weeks before they calve.
Have spare supply of colostrum in freezer (source from neighbour's farm only if Johne's status known).
6. Parasite control programme: This should include any results from faecal samples and set targets for when faecal egg counts should be carried out. Also, all doses used should be recorded.
This allows for far more strategic and targeted dosing. It prevents overdosing or poor timing of dosing. By monitoring faecal egg counts as well it gives you a good indicator of worm/fluke burdens on your farm.
7. Vaccination strategy: A lot of farms use vaccines to control disease on their farms. With tighter regulations on antibiotics, vaccination will become more important in the future in maintaining a healthy herd.
What is so important is that these vaccines are used at the appropriate time and administered by the appropriate route. In this section of the plan all vaccinations used will be put down on a calendar basis which will be reviewed annually.
8. Nutrition/housing: This section should include all feeding strategies and general husbandry around housing. There is a saying 'if you don't measure it you can't manage it' this is why silage and feed analysis is so important.
All relevant feed analysis and body condition recording should be included here. It is very useful for any input from external advisors if necessary.
A very important part of nutrition is also mineral analysis by blood testing cows before they calve. This can harvest a lot of information in relation to mineral issues on farm. Grassland management and daily liveweight gain should be recorded in this section. Regular weight recording can be beneficial when recording herd performance.
9. Fertility: One target for any suckler farmer is a calf per cow per year. Proper fertility recording, pre-breeding scanning, treating problem cows, heat detection and attention to body condition scoring all help.
By having a fertility plan you will directly effect on-farm profitability.
The stock bull or bulls should not be forgotten and should be fertility tested post-purchase or before the breeding season commences.
The last section should include recording of samples submitted, issues on farm and further notes. At the beginning of the next year, last year's plan should be reviewed, changed and adapted where needed.