Dairy farmers Trevor and John Whitfield are already reaping the
rewards of farm health planning under a new initiative.
The Whitfields and their advisers - left to right, John Whitfield,
senior, Richard Vecqueray, Trevor Whitefield, John Whitfield,
Bruce Richards and Ian Ohnstad at Woodhouses Farm, Great Orton.
The brothers are fine-tuning the health of their pedigree Holstein
herd at Woodhouses Farm, Great Orton, Carlisle, as one of eight
advocate farms involved in the XLVets Dairy project run under Defra’s
Farm Health Planning scheme to encourage farmers to be proactive
about their cattle’s health and welfare ultimately resulting
in financial benefit.
In the current financial year, Defra is funding 27 dairy and beef
Cattle Health Plan Initiatives to the tune of £1.6 million,
and XLVets member Paragon Veterinary Group, based at Dalston, near
Carlisle, selected the Whitfields as their advocate farm.
The XLVets Dairy project advocate farms cover a wide range of
farming types, some are owned, others are tenanted. Parlour types
vary from eight to 24 milking units through to robots, and include
both pipelines and recorder jars, herringbones and tandems.
Some are entirely on TMR and others feed concentrate in the parlour
with silage at a trough. The type of housing tends to reflect locality.
Woodhouses Farm, which was the focus of a farmers health planning
open day currently stocks 150 milking cows in its pedigree Garnet
herd run on 260 acres, 180 of which are owned and the remainder
The herd was lost during 2001’s foot and mouth epidemic.
The previously commercial black and white herd of 70 milkers has
now been increased since re-stocking with cattle from three herds.
The year-round calving herd averages 9,000 litres at 3.2% protein
and 4.4% butterfat. Cows are fed on a TMR of grass silage, maize,
wholecrop wheat and a protein blend, topped up in the parlour with
a 20 per cent protein concentrate.
Paragon’s Bruce Richards said: “Through fortnightly
routine visits we have, like on many of our farms, continuously
identified and tackled health and production issues which have
been causing problems.
“What we haven’t done in the past is to actively document
and plan the strategies and control measures, allowing us to review
and benchmark them regularly as a means of measuring progress and
more importantly, recognising the financial value of these action
plans and Herd Health Planning – something we all do subconsciously.
Working with Trevor and John Whitfield, the core health adviser
team comprising Paragon Veterinary Group, Ian Ohnstad, a consultant
from The Dairy Group and Richard Vecqueray, a nutritionist with
EBVC, has identified a number of core health problems and over
the next few months the team is developing and activating a herd
health plan to target these issues:
- The incidence of milk fever.
- The recently rising bulk tank SCC and associated mastitis rate.
- The rising bulk tank BVD antibody level and its likely effect
- The recent high incidence of lameness.
“This exercise has already demonstrated that not enough
effort goes into herd health planning,” said Trevor Whitfield. “We
will be very interested to see the final outcome.
“Already the few changes we have made have given improvements
all-round. In the past, for example, we have not used a nutritionist,
but that is something we are seriously considering once the scheme
has ended. The Holstein cow is a finely tuned animal which needs
to be fed accordingly.”
Although lameness had been identified as a problem, it had not
been quantified. In the last 12 months 23 cows per 100 cows had
been recorded as having received treatment for lameness, but this
figure probably underestimated the problem.
A locomotion score carried out in August showed that 28% of the
herd were lame on that day - a high incidence with huge implications
in terms of milk yield, fertility and particularly welfare.
There are many factors contributing to this problem – the
aim of the herd health planning initiative is to identify each
of the contributing factors and prioritise solutions, depending
on the impact they’re likely to have, and the cost and time
involved in implementing them.
At a cost of practically nothing, Trevor recently demolished a
wall in a shed so that he could set up his crush permanently to
make trimming cows feet less of a chore, and hopefully the cows
will feel the benefit.
He has gates set up so that he can separate off cows at milking
time and get them into the crush quickly and easily on his own.
A high level of milk fever was one area Trevor and John identified
as needing attention. MF occurred at an incidence of 14%, with
an average cost per case of £209 (£40 - £1655)
with 5 animals culled due to downer cow syndrome each costing over £1655.
Together with Richard Vecqueray an action plan has been implemented.
Forages and the dry cow TMR have been analysed, with emphasis on
Blood and urine have been collected from transition cows to analyse
their acid-base balance (a major cause of MF), their macromineral
excretion and their energy status pre-calving – a major contributor
to fat mobilisation pre and post calving.
Preliminary results reflect a high potassium and sodium intake
and consequential poor calcium mobilisation so a specific diet
has been formulated and fed to the dry and transition cows.
Once under control, the team will look toward maximising the milking
ration which has met production levels but is not consistent with
optimal herd health and fertility. MOPF is excellent but by improving
and maintaining milk quality, some margin for improved feed rates
should be available, at the least for improved cow health and fertility.
The increasing bulk tank BVD level could have implications on
the fertility and health of the herd which has a current calving
interval of 413 days.
Blood testing of cohort groups has been carried out to identify
the level of disease across the herd and to consider if herd vaccination
would be cost-effective.
Cell counts at the start of the initiative were well above 200
and threatening to put the milk into a lower price band, now they
have been reduced to 150.
With Ian Ohnstad, a mastitis action plan is being devised looking
at the milking machine and teat management and hygiene.
Environmental problems, such as poor ventilation in cubicle housing,
have already been identified, resulting in some modifications to
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