Advice is mostly farm-specific

Farmers frequently complain of getting conflicting advice, writes vet Trevor Cook.

In Livestock7 Minutes

Farmers frequently complain of getting conflicting advice, writes vet Trevor Cook.

A comment I hear very frequently from farmers is how they get exposed to conflicting advice.

I can understand that to some extent, in that much advice is specific to a farm, the season, the district or the stock class. Many advisers do not emphasise that enough. I am sure I have fallen into that trap many times.

An interesting encounter recently was with a farmer who attended a Wormwise workshop I had presented at least 20 years ago. He had picked up the concept of integrated grazing and had by his description done it very well.

Basically, he ran his sheep and cattle separately and weaned lambs on to cattle areas and weaned calves on to sheep areas. He was confident he had got a significant weight gain in both young stock classes.

Just this year his farm consultant advised him that running at least the adult sheep and cattle together would make for more efficient grazing. Even the younger classes together at times would be more efficient.

The farmer asked me what was correct.

Very little in farming is absolutely correct but in this case there are two different objectives. I am sure some co-grazing of sheep and cattle would increase the grazing efficiency and would not compromise the integrity of integrated grazing. It would need to be well-planned though.

The reality of where we are now with widespread and severe drench resistance, very integrated grazing concepts are the way of the future and are the only option for some farmers already. So in this case the advice, as maybe most advice, needs to take in a wider picture.

Farmers are no more exposed to the danger of the advice coming from the person selling the product than the rest of the population. For farmers it is fertilisers, animal health products, seeds, quad bikes – the list goes on.

Look at the science

In many cases past experiences help cut through the sales pitch. I always advise to look at the science. That is easy to say but very often is difficult to do.

Close to my heart is animal health products and the compromised position veterinarians can get into as sellers of these. That is a huge topic on its own but is an example of multiple products available and advice being sort of which is best. The confusion of conflicting advice, though, remains the biggest complaint I hear.

How does the farmer sort this? As I write, I have received a text from a client with a faecal egg count result for pregnant ewe hoggets with advice that they need to be drenched soon. My interpretation of that result was that they do not need to be drenched at all.

While I doubt the advice to drench was driven by a prospective drench sale, it did highlight the knowledge of the adviser. In this case the farmer was confused because the result he had did not fit the advice so he sought another opinion. But that cannot always be an option to take.

What sort of copper injection is best, what form of copper supplementation is best, which pre-lamb vaccine is the best, what testing is best for finding trace element status, when should vaccination of suckling calves start or what drench is best are common questions where there are varied opinions and options.

Worm advice

Worm management is probably where the most complaints of conflicting advice comes from. This is not surprising because, despite the messages being given which try to simplify the actions needed to be taken, the reality is that it is not simple.

Most of the advice around quarantine treatments, drench intervals, types of drench to use, refugia, paddock and grazing options or monitoring are very farm, season and stock class specific. While concepts are generic, how they are applied is not. A big contribution to the confusion is because of the interaction of various actions. So it is not confusion rather than wrong application.

One that I have seen often is the message of appropriate quarantine treatment being heard but not linked to the other message of not drenching on to clean grazing areas. The outcome is lambs quarantine treated but as they go on to clean grazing. The outcome is severe drench resistance very quickly.

Drenching lambs or calves and leaving them on the same paddock for a day or so before moving, rotation lengths linked to worm challenges, how long to leave paddocks to lower the worm contamination level and using faecal egg counts to trigger drenching are all actions that will vary according to where in the country, the farming system and the season. So, farm specific. As is much of what we apply to farms – the principle is the same, how it is applied is specific.