A “proactive mindset rather than reactive” is needed for managing herd health, according to one of the 2019 Nuffield Scholars.

Ailish Moriarty, who works as a milk quality manager for Kerry Agribusiness, will present the findings of her research online today (Monday, November 23) as part of a week-long virtual ‘lunch and learn’ series.

Her report assesses the role of milk screening for disease within an effective herd health system. She told AgriLand, that on the ground, she sees the need for a “proactive mindset rather than reactive”.

‘It’s about developing a mindset of looking at how to prevent and pre-empt a disease’

“You could be firefighting and only see the vet when the cows are sick or down but it’s really about developing a mindset of looking at how to prevent and pre-empt a disease,” she explains.

As part of her research, she went to the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and the UK.

“We’ve all heard about the Netherlands and how they have fantastic health surveillance and monitoring. I would say some of the scholars went further afield but I felt myself that what we needed to learn was closer to home,” she said.

Her report incorporates case studies, which give examples “of what is working” in other countries.

In the Netherlands, I came across a programme called ‘healthy partners’ – and it’s about the vet working with the farmers. They agree health targets and, then, if the farmer achieves that target, the vet gets paid a bit more.

“I met one of the farmers involved who felt it was a game-changer for him and the vet felt he was very much part of a team, active in decision-making, constantly checking in to see how progress was going, so that was a really interesting thing to learn about.

“If you look at the other side, in Denmark, they have a system whereby the vet must come to the farm four times a year and do health checks. Now, the farmer must pay for that, but once you go over 100 cows, it’s Danish law that this must be done.

“My report then takes snippets of all that best practice, and I try to form my recommendations based on those.

“I’m not saying one system is better than another, I think it is going to be a combination of the committed farmers and the industry working together to deliver better herd health programmes.”


Moriarty is adamant that the starting point is to risk assess, “get a snapshot and then, based on that, determine what milk screen tests are required”.

“There isn’t a point in testing for testing’s sake. We could be testing forever but there’s no point testing if we’re not doing anything about it. We really need to do the risk assessment, see what tests need to be done, then test, then decide action,” Moriarty continued.

“The key point, which may also cause concern, is the funding for implementing new regimes. The funding should be where all stakeholders are vested – it could be a combination where we could get some government support, funding that’s available to the EU and the government.

“I think it’s important that the farmer themselves are invested – if a clear financial business model was determined where the farmer will pay some, TASAH [Targeted Advisory Service on Animal Health] could pay some and maybe the various dairy purchasers could help support and fund that. I think if we don’t get that visibility, on an individual farm level, then how can we move forward?”

Moriarty said it is a “combination of everyone working together”.

“When I started off my report, I thought milk screening is the end-all and be-all. But, no, I’ve realised that it’s one aspect of holistic herd health management. We need to trust and use the technology and the efficient capture and use of data, availing of the data that’s there.

“Maybe we’re not the best at communicating the value and merit of that data, but I think it’s important that we can promote the support we have available and encourage more farmers to engage with them.

It’s going to be better for the farmer, better for the cow, better for the consumer and better for the industry.

“Everyone can win. In Ireland, we do have a very good standard of herd health – excellent standard – but my report was to find out what can we do just a little bit of better.

“Everything isn’t going to be perfect, but we have to evaluate progress, decide we have to do things a little bit different, and move on.”