The Hexham-based National Beef Association has launched a new guide on herd health, focussed on planning and the prevention of disease.
The third in a series, it has been produced by the organisation’s Animal Health Committee, created last year to provide beef farmers with information on common health problems and their potential financial impact on beef enterprises.
Previous topics to be considered have included movement of stock and bio-security planning.
Disease represents a major obstacle to the profitability of many beef cattle operations, resulting in animal death, failure or decreased efficiency in reproduction, as well as a downturn in growth and productivity.
Some diseases exist at subclinical levels, meaning they can go undetected, and it is widely agreed that prevention, rather than treatment, represents the best approach to the problem..
Charlie Maclaren, chairman of the NBA’s Animal Health Committee, who produced the latest guide, said: “Treatment of a disease after its onset is not always effective and is often costly. Production losses often occur before diagnosis and treatment can be instituted.
“Herd health programs are designed to provide routine, planned procedures which will prevent or minimise disease.
“Many herd health programs fail in their objectives because too much reliance is put on vaccinations and other treatments.
“A comprehensive herd health programme recognises vaccination as an important tool, but not a cure-all. Effective programmes integrate medicine and management to prevent disease.”
Mr Maclaren added that there were three major factors to be considered when attempting to keep disease losses to a minimum.
Firstly, exposure to disease should be prevented, with purchase and quarantine procedures being employed. High intensity operations, in particular, required robust preventative programmes.
Farmers should also aim to keep disease resistance high through quality nutrition, management and housing programmes, preventing or minimising animal stress and, in some cases, vaccination.
Finally, if disease does occur, action should be taken to prevent its spread, with affected animals being segregated immediately.
Mr Maclaren said: “Herd health programmes must be tailored to each individual production situation. Performance of procedures should be grouped because cattle handling is expensive, time consuming, and stressful to cattle.
“In some cases, the cost of performing a procedure may outweigh the benefits gained. Every procedure should be evaluated in terms of its potential to be cost-beneficial.”
He added that vets could be “of tremendous help” in establishing and maintaining health programs.
“They keep current with new developments in disease occurrence and in procedures available to prevent and treat diseases,” Mr Maclaren added.
“Knowledge and experience enable them to help tailor programs that are based on the goals, capabilities, and situations present on given farms.”
The National Beef Association is recognised as the beef cattle industry’s consultative body.