Efficiency can be described as getting the desired result using as few resources (material, time, labour, effort) as possible. An alternative view of efficiency could be achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted expense, so how do these definitions apply to efficiency in animal health?

Animal health products can be difficult to classify when it comes to efficiency, as when dealing with biological systems there can be considerable variability which quickly complicates matters.

Take drench for example. A triple combination drench on a farm with widespread resistance is much less ‘efficient’ (by the definitions above) than the same drench on a farm with no resistance. The incidence of disease can also vary markedly from season-to-season and farm-to-farm, therefore the ‘efficiency’ of the products designed to protect stock from these diseases can also vary.

Because many of the products we use onfarm are also used as a preventative, we don’t always know that these products will be needed when administering them. Instead, much like car insurance, we use them as protection against the worst possible outcome. So while we may get the desired outcome (i.e. no abortions), we can’t be sure this was due to vaccination or if the disease simply wasn’t present.

When considering the ‘efficiency’ of an animal health product, farmers should consider the risk and potential costs of a disease outbreak, and balance this with the effectiveness and costs associated with the product aimed at preventing the disease.

Toxoplasma abortion is a great example. This is spread by wild cats which are prevalent (often in high numbers) on most, if not all, sheep farms.

The risk of the disease is therefore relatively high and we all know the costs associated with an abortion outbreak can be significant. The vaccine however is very ‘efficient’, with only one shot being required to protect the majority (no vaccine is perfect) of ewes for life. Compare this with other vaccines, these often require booster shots every year and the risk of disease may not be as high.

The ‘efficiency’ of animal health products is also affected by the status of the farm. Take for example BVD vaccination, a farm with very good biosecurity and no circulating PIs, will (by the definitions above) have a much less ‘efficient’ vaccination programme. Not because the vaccine is any less effective, but simply because it is an extra expense that may not actually be necessary.

The same could be said for mineral supplementation, a farmer regularly giving B12 to lambs that aren’t actually deficient is doing so at the cost of extra time, labour and expense with limited benefit (very ‘inefficient’!).

Pointing out these ‘inefficiencies’ is something myself and my colleagues at NSVets take great pride in. There is much more satisfaction in talking to a client about a product and explaining why they don’t actually need it, than there is in selling one irrespective of the need. Of course these are just two examples, there are many other products (tape drench etc) that are often ‘inefficient’ and equally there are farms that do benefit from BVD vaccination and B12 supplementation!

So, for those of you that I have confused, what is the take home message? The important thing is to take the time to sit down and construct a robust animal health plan with your vet, in order to improve the ‘efficiency’ of animal health treatments on your farm. This will help to maximise the health and productivity of your stock whilst minimising unnecessary costs – a win for farm profitability!

  • Andrew Cochrane is a veterinarian with Northern Southland Vets.