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Figures reveal £180 per cow range in vet costs
WITH vet costs varying hugely between farms, Promar national dairy consultant Derek Gardner suggests a more proactive approach to disease management might be one area where farmers could reduce production costs.
The total cost of vet and medicines on 250 dairy farms with Promar Farm Business Accounts costings was around 5 per cent of the total cost of milk production - but the range was from under £20 per cow to over £200 per cow (see graph). For a 150 cow herd, this represents a £25,000 difference in the size of the annual vet bill.
“The graph shows, generally, costs increase with yield but I don’t think this should be taken for granted,” Mr Gardner says.
“Why do they increase with yield? What are the main reasons and can they be tackled? Should it be true that cows require more veterinary intervention just because they produce more?
“The graph also demonstrates there is a considerable range in vet costs at any given yield. For example, at 7,500 litres annual yield, vet costs vary from £15 to £130 per cow and the question has to be, why?”
Mr Gardner says the difference is not due to individual charges but more about how the vet is used.
“Dairy vets in this country are highly skilled and do an excellent job but perhaps farmers could question how they work with their vet,” he says.
“The biggest factor driving the difference in vet costs per cow is prevention rather than cure. Not only is it cheaper, but it can also reduce the production losses associated with the principle diseases of dairy cows.”
Using lameness as an example, Mr Gardner suggests the herds with lower average vet costs will be those where time is invested in regular slurry scraping to avoid cows standing in dirty passageways.
These farms will also be routinely hoof trimming properly, as a preventative measure, and will ensure the diet contains adequate levels of zinc and biotin to encourage strong, healthy hoof growth.
“Together, these measures should reduce the number of lame cows requiring veterinary intervention”
Mr Gardner believes similar savings can be achieved through measures to reduce mastitis: “Keeping beds clean and dry, ensuring good ventilation, regular checking of milking machine function, adopting a strict milking routine and early intervention with problem cows will help reduce the incidence and spread of clinical mastitis.”
The other area where management approaches can help reduce the reliance on the vet is fertility.
Mr Gardner says paying attention to cow grouping, reducing stress, ensuring a well-constructed dry cow diet and just making sufficient time for heat detection can all help.
“On all farms, no matter how good prevention measures are, there will be times when the vet is needed and the aim then be to get the most from the visit,” he says.
“Routine visits can be a good approach, as the vet will be seeing several cows at the same time and use of action lists can ensure all problem animals are seen. Farms with lower vet costs per cow also see the vet as an integral member of the team managing the cows and will have regular meetings between the owner, herd manager, vet and feed consultant. These meetings allow problem areas to be discussed and can help improve preventative measures.
“Assessing how to get the most from the vet while improving milk output will reduce the vet cost per litre and will be time well spent.”