Do you have a herd health plan for your dairy farm?

As dairy goat farms/producers become more progressive and milk yields increase, we frequently see more herd related issues dealing with animal disease and productivity. Examples include increased mortality (adult and kid), poor milk quality, nutritional problems (i.e. pregnancy toxemia), and fertility issues (i.e. abortion). Creating and following a herd health plan will benefit your operation by providing good animal health, welfare and production while balancing competitive economic returns. The proper development of a herd health plan involves a team approach involving your veterinarian, nutritionist, equipment dealer, management team (family and/or employees), financial advisor and any other people/organizations who bring value to your operation. A herd health plan needs to be customized to your dairy herd-your plan will not be the same as other dairy goat producers.

What does it take to create a herd health team?

  1. Work with a small ruminant veterinarian and establish an ongoing veterinary-client relationship. Veterinary costs are a very minor part of the overall expenses of a dairy goat operation. A small increase in veterinary expenses by utilizing your veterinarian for herd health will result in increased profits by improving overall animal health, production and milk quality.
  2. Nutrition impacts the health and productivity of your herd. Your nutritionist is a key part of the herd health team by assessing the quality of feedstuffs and advising on the best utilization of those feeds to meet the metabolic demands of your animals.
  3. Your equipment dealer needs to be involved in your herd health team as poorly maintained or improperly functioning milking equipment can cause udder health issues. These can impact overall animal health and ultimately profitability of your dairy herd.
  4. Properly trained and fully engaged staff and family members understand the importance of ensuring consistency in each part of the operation. A lack of routine or inconsistent management practices may negatively impact health, production and milk quality.

What is a Herd Health Program?

"Objective is the maintenance of animal health and production at the most efficient level that provides competititve economic returns to the animal owner."

As part of your management team, your financial advisor will prompt you to maintain more detailed records and he/she can assist you in analyzing those records to show what parts of your operation are the most or least profitable.

Your herd health plan should take into consideration the following aspects of your operation:

  • Establishing farm specific and realistic goals for your herd
  • Biosecurity / "buyer beware" / isolation and hospital pens
  • Disease prevention programs
  • Disease occurrence and investigation
  • Treatment and vaccination protocols
  • Drug usage / withdrawal times
  • Udder health / milk quality
  • Reproductive health
  • Genetic improvement
  • Nutrition
  • Hoof care
  • Kid rearing
  • Production data
  • Husbandry / environmental management / air quality
  • Record keeping and analysis
  • Any other elements that are deemed significant to your operation

It is often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The diagram below highlights the economic impact of preventative strategies.

Adapted from the Canadian Dairy Information Centre

Figure 1: Adapted from the Canadian Dairy Information Centre

For example, routinely performing post mortems can help with the early identification of disease before it spreads through your herd. In many situations, dollars spent determining the cause of one death will save a producer even more in terms of preventing future animal losses.

Future issues of the Dairy Goat Digest will expand on various topic areas mentioned in this article.

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