Health planning for your beef herd is not only a useful way of collating your farm’s history and tasks for the year ahead – for most farm assurance schemes it is mandatory to file a health and antibiotic review. Health planning (and reviewing antibiotic usage) should not, however, be passed off as a box ticking exercise. Compiling your herd health plan (HHP) is a perfect opportunity to have a focused conversation with your vet about your challenges on the farm, and your future goals.
With the growing demands of farm assurance schemes, it is becoming apparent that simply signing off a health plan created years prior is not sufficient to satisfy their criteria – and nor should it be. Your farm is essentially its very own ecosystem, and subtle changes to the environment, medicine availability, or legislation every year can impact on your disease risks and/or husbandry requirements. The HHP and antibiotic review requires your vet to review data including disease incidence, culling data, medicine purchases and usage. With this data, you can work together to set targets for the coming year. This is particularly important on beef farms, which, unless you have fertility routines, for example, may have longer in between vet visits than dairy farms.
When preparing for your health plan, remember that your treatment records must be up to date to allow your vet to review on-farm medicine choices, and to make recommendations for effective treatment plans. This is particularly pertinent as we, as an industry, move to reduce the use of antibiotics in general, but especially critically important antibiotics (CIAs) that have roles to play in human healthcare. It is recognised that there has been some fluctuation in the availability of certain production animal medications, from anti-inflammatories to antibiotics, over the past year. This has meant the alteration of dosing regimes with potential for confusion, which is always worth revising during your HHP meeting.
HHP reviews may give us a picture of past events on farms, but they also give us added insight into potential upcoming challenges or risks, leading us to discuss pro-active health measures that could save money, enhance profitability and improve animal welfare. If you have a common theme running through your disease records, there may be building or grouping alterations, or vaccine strategies that could be beneficial to your system. If taken up regularly (at least annually is recommended) then together with your vet, you can assess your success in hitting past targets, and tailor strategies that help you surpass them in the future.
When inspection season looms, there is a huge increase in demand for sight-unseen antibiotic reviews, which vets cannot compile effectively without a detailed look at your farm data. With this in mind, it would be wise to get in touch with your veterinary surgery in good time, prior to your inspection, to make sure you have all the required paperwork, but also to take advantage of a valuable discussion opportunity. If your inspection goes ahead without this review completed, you may be given 21 days in which to file it, which puts unnecessary and stressful time constraints on you – so some forward planning is in everyone’s best interest.
Your vets will not doubt sympathise that much of assurance schemes feel more like paperwork than practical farming. However, it is important that we work together to reframe reviews and inspections as opportunities to gain valuable insight into your farm and practices, for your benefit, and ultimately for the benefit of your stock. It is possible that your veterinary practice will offer different tiers of health planning, ranging from sufficient to satisfy assurance scheme requirements, all the way up to comprehensive, tailored review of very specific farm goals, with clear instructions for stockpersons to follow, particularly if more than one person is responsible for tasks on the farm. Your vet should be able to explain their different health planning services to you and advise upon the best course of action for your farm.
There is benefit in having this discussion at any time of year, and undoubtedly some untapped potential for herd improvement in all seasons. Don’t wait for inspection time to roll around to get in touch with your Westpoint vet!
Written by Ami Sawran BVSc CertAVP PhD MRCVS