‘Herd health planning saves money and makes more profit on the farm’

“The main outcome of herd health planning is that it allows the farmer to save money and make more profit for the farm.”

This is according to Frank O’Sullivan, who is the vet for Teagasc Grange. He was speaking on [email protected] about herd health planning as part of the Teagasc Virtual Beef Week.

O’Sullivan explained how a herd health plan is developed and talked through who is involved in the making of it.

“Typically, what’s involved is that the farmer, the vet, and the Teagasc advisor will come together at key times of the year and plan for the season ahead.”

He gave an example of the plan being put into action:

“I recall one 40-cow suckler farmer who, through the years had terrible problems with calf diarrhoea, and in the last couple of seasons we came together.

“We looked at his dry cows and asked: What could we do to prevent this disease occurring in the coming season?

“The farmer came up with many of the solutions himself, and he got the body condition score correct, which is a key point. He had the mineral inputs into the cows correct.

“He also elected to use a calf scour vaccine to help with the transfer of immunity to the young calf when he was born.

O’Sullivan said: “In that process everybody would contribute. It’s not a top-down approach; it’s a collaborative approach.

“Through the season we asked how could we improve the hygiene in the calving areas and how we could improve ventilation in the shed. All these points, with a collaborative approach, help you come up with a plan.

“We map that down and write it out for the farmer, so he then has a clear plan of how they are going to manage the next couple of months. In essence, that means he has more time in prevention of the disease and less time spent treating disease.

“Apart from the economic benefit, there is a tremendous saving in preventing subclinical disease. That is disease that is not overtly there, but can cause problems with production.

“Thinking about that farmer and farmers in general, they really don’t like dealing with diseased or sick animals. There is a tremendous stress involved in that and, in particular, part-time farmers love the concept of how they can plan things out.

“They can go to work in comfort and come home and enjoy a healthy herd, rather than coming home to sick animals,” O’Sullivan added.

Clinical call-out reduction

When asked how much reduction he had seen in clinical call-outs, where herd health planning was already part of the management plan of the farm, O’Sullivan said that this “was most certainly the case” and that “clinical call-outs tend to use quite a bit of antibiotics”.

“The treatment outcomes can often be poor, and the time could be much better spent focusing back upstream in preventing these [diseases].”

He continued:

Planning helps to reinforce to the farmer that they are doing a good job and it is no harm when that news is shared. It is almost a celebration in that way.

Role changes

According to O’Sullivan, the role of the veterinary practice has changed “to one where we share information”.

“The farmers are co-authors of the herd health plan. That means if you design something you are going to take ownership of it. If someone shoves or forces a plan at you, you are less likely to take it up.

The farmer knows his animals and he knows his farm. He knows what works, what he can manage to do and what he cannot.

“So we would try and work within those constraints. If the farmer has certain help at weekends or certain facilities, we work with that. This means the plan is bespoke to him and individual to him. They can adopt those principals and look forward to doing that.”

According to O’Sullivan, the herd health plan has “revolutionised how he works”.

“We would work more as a facilitator, rather than a top-down ‘these are the four things you must do’ type of person. That doesn’t work and we know that.”