Before any vet or farmer undertakes a health plan or programme, they must have some idea where they are starting from. By this I mean the current disease status of the herd.
This can be done by knowledge of past problems, assessing old records and of course, strategic blood sampling to find out current levels of disease.
I really believe we have to also 'aim for the moon' and even if we hit the roof top it is a step in the right direction.
What I have seen over the last two years since starting this preventative approach has been very positive. However, it is not without its problems and it takes a lot of time, effort and commitment.
To give me some indicators of current disease status I have been using targeted blood sampling of young stock to determine antibodies levels of certain diseases on different farms.
For example, I recently visited a farm that had coughing weanlings every year and wanted to implement control measures to reduce pneumonia symptoms.
The particular farm was going to vaccinate for IBR, but instead we did some diagnostics to find the actual cause of the problem. Through some targeted blood samples and nasal swabs we found RSV and ruled out some other viruses. This led to more targeted and strategic vaccination with good results.
This is just an example of one farm and how diagnostic sampling can be a very useful tool in treating disease, but also shows it is very important in monitoring disease.
At XLVets we have developed our own monitoring package called XLVets suckler check where we do blood samples on young stock. We also will check for Johne's Disease and targeted pooled faecal sampling. This approach means the health status of a lot of my farms is now known and we have a baseline status with which we can go forward.
A huge part of any plan should also be biosecurity. The main source of disease for so many of our farms is bought-in stock. A closed herd is the ideal scenario but is not always possible.
What every farm should have is standard operating procedure (SOP) for buying in stock which should include necessary disease screening (serology), four weeks isolation (quarantine) and fluke/worm drench.
A good example of this for me in the recent past was a farmer who bought three replacement heifers which went lame shortly after arrival on farm.
What it ended up being was highly contagious digital dermatitis (mortellaros).
It spread through the rest of the herd in the house leading to footbathing and expensive antibiotic treatments.
This is why keeping a closed herd is so beneficial, and when you are buying in it is vital that you purchase only healthy stock from a farm with a proven health status.
Equally important when you're selling cattle is that you could have a health plan which backs up the high health standard which your farm is achieving.
Bought-in stock therefore plays the most important role in the introduction and spread of disease into your farm. It is also important that farm boundaries are maintained and of course that all farm visitors undertake thorough disinfection and necessary hygiene precautions when entering your farm.
I have been hugely encouraged lately by the number of farmers who have asked me to disinfect when arriving on their farm.
This is best practice, and we all should be aiming to limit the spread of disease on our farms.