Working with a Veterinarian for Dairy Herd Health

Published on Tue, 05/19/2020 - 1:30pm

Working with a Veterinarian for Dairy Herd Health.

 By Heather Smith Thomas.

 For best milk production, a dairy herd needs optimum health, fertility, cow comfort, nutrition, etc.  It is important for the dairy to work with a veterinarian on herd health, according to Dr. Steve Hendrick, Coaldale Veterinary Clinic, Coaldale, Alberta (a feedlot, dairy and cow-calf practice in southern Alberta).

Traditionally the veterinarian has been involved in pregnancy detection, dealing with cows that don’t clean, and diseases that impair production—everything from mastitis to displaced abomasum.  “As dairy herds have become larger, with more emphasis on production, we help producers come up with protocols to deal with disease conditions.  We can help with prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” he says.  This includes certain vaccinations at proper time.
Some veterinarians give advice on nutrition, but this is still a specialty addressed by people with degree in livestock nutrition.  “There is always some overlap, however, since health is affected by nutrition,” Hendrick says.  Some health issues are due to a nutritional deficiency, for instance.
“There are ways to help cows make the transition from dry cow to lactation, making sure body condition is adequate.  There are many factors involved, and we work with our clients to make sure cows are healthy, giving birth to live, healthy calves, cleaning on time, and transitioning into production.”
Historically, dairies didn’t concentrate on calf health very much because calves were not the main focus.  “Today, however, a dairy is more likely to get their vet involved, to monitor health and growth, especially when raising heifers,” says Hendrick.
Dairy heifers are different than beef heifers because you don’t want them overfat.  There is more attention paid to getting heifers started properly, keeping them on a proper nutrition and vaccination program.  “We try to minimize disease in young calves, and monitor them all the way through to make sure they are growing and performing optimally.  Then by the time they come into the herd they will be fully developed and can become good cows,” he says.
“Traditionally, veterinarians mainly did emergency health services.  Now we try to be more preventative, and this becomes a bigger part of management.  We monitor production records for trends in health and production data to identify any problems, and try to understand any issues and develop strategies to manage those.  The dairyman can sit down with the nutritionist, banker, and others who invested in that operation, to make plans and monitor what’s going on,” he says.  
A lot of publicity has centered around animal welfare.  “Our clients need to make sure that things are done properly so we don’t have negative publicity, and we try to help them with this.  We are getting more involved with auditing, and providing a third-party observation in a program called ProAction administered through the Dairy Farmers of Canada.  There are some basic standards that are required to be signed on, saying they have done these different aspects—whether food safety, animal welfare or some other components they have to achieve,” Hendrick says.
When clients are planning to build facilities the veterinarian gets involved with those discussions.  Dairy facilities need to be designed for efficient cow flow and worker efficiency but also keeping the cows’ welfare and comfort in mind.  
Dr. Kirk Mueller is part of a nine-doctor practice (Herd Health PLLC) in Caldwell, Idaho that services several dairies in the Treasure Valley.  He works with 8 dairies routinely, doing herd health checks, pregnancy checks, etc.  “We also have on-line videos that can help dairies train their employees,” he says.
It helps to have a plan for herd health and update it regularly, especially for a large dairy.  “The dairy needs a working relationship with a veterinarian; most of the co-ops and milk processors buying milk in this region require that every farm have a herd health plan.  This is also part of the National Dairy FARM Program.  The co-ops have trained second-party evaluators to facilitate the program for dairies,” Mueller says.
The FARM program includes questions for the dairyman.  Many of those pertain to animal health, comfort, calves’ well-being, etc.  “The dairy is required to work with a herd veterinarian to get those protocols written and make sure the training is done with their employees,” says Mueller.
“When I visit with a new dairyman who is shipping milk to one of those co-ops, I mention that this is required, but also advantageous to the dairy; we have the schooling to back up decisions regarding animal diseases and treatments--which drugs can and cannot be used, and length of time for milk withholding,” he explains.
Consumers today are not only looking at food safety but also concerned about well-being of the animals, and how they are cared for.  “This has been a big push in our advice, in how we serve our clients and their industry, keeping them abreast of what the public is requiring,” Mueller says.
“We serve one calf ranch that started pair-raising calves together--a relatively new concept.  When I was in vet school, we were taught we had to raise calves in individual hutches, with no nose-to-nose contact.  Now Canadian research has shown we can raise pairs together.  When the public starts demanding these things be done, we can say we are already trying to do this—or know that it can be done,” says Mueller.
Raising calves in pairs in larger hutches gives calves social interaction (a more normal situation), better growth rate, and they are less stressed going into the dairy barns as fresh cows, or into any new environment.  “We pass this kind of information to our clients, and some of them may try it,” he says.
A herd health plan covers vaccine protocol—what to vaccinate for, and when—and a sick cow protocol.  “We have treatment protocols for down cows, and a euthanasia protocol as part of that herd health plan.”  There are also protocols for lameness prevention and treatment, difficult calving, milking procedure, and mastitis treatment.
“A signed page states that we have a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship with this dairy, which makes it legal for us to prescribe drugs, and that we are the veterinarian of record,” says Mueller.  
The colostrum and calf care protocols get the calves off to a good start, with less sickness.  There is also a fly, pest and parasite control protocol now required as part of the FARM program.  “Much of this program—required by the co-ops--has come into existence in the last 8 years.  This has increased awareness in dairies, and the requirement that they must have a veterinarian to write up the herd health plan.”

National Standards

The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program is open to all U.S. dairy farmers, co-ops and processors.  This organization works with dairies and industry partners to show that the dairy industry is taking the very best care of cows and the environment, producing safe, wholesome milk and adhering to highest standards of workforce development.
Created by the National Milk Producers Federation in partnership with Dairy Management Inc., FARM demonstrates that U.S. dairy farmers are committed to producing the best milk, with integrity.  The FARM Animal Care Program standards are revised every three years to reflect the most current science and best management practices within the industry.  Current standards, rationale, and accountability measures have been reviewed and revised by the FARM Technical Writing Group and National Milk Producers Federation Animal Health and Well-Being Committee--and approved by the National Milk Producers Federation Animal Health and Well-being Committee and Board of Directors. Current standards will remain in place from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2022.