Andrew Cochrane

A myriad of flexibility options are available when it comes to production, but what about flexibility in animal health treatments? Can we be flexible when it comes to animal health and in what circumstances?

The answer is not straightforward and the key to flexibility in animal health is monitoring – monitoring of stock and environment. There are instances where flexibility may mean less animal health treatments are needed, but equally there are circumstances where we may need more. A classic example is control of internal parasites (worms).

In Southland last winter we saw deaths in R1 cattle from worm burdens in July, something unusual down here due to our cool climate.

An unusually mild autumn and start to winter was the catalyst for these deaths but the lack of close monitoring and timely treatments was the nail in the coffin.

The farmer in question treated for parasites the way they always have, and in the past they haven’t had any trouble. The difference this year was simply the climatic conditions, which provided ideal conditions for parasite development in late autumn. Crucially the farmer didn’t notice and their inflexible treatment regime resulted in deaths – one extra drench would have avoided the problem.

Conversely, in drought conditions as many of you have seen this year, flexibility may mean drenching can be less frequent, due to larval development/survival being low. Again this would require careful monitoring of both environment and stock. When the rain returns and larval challenge increases, flexibility may result in drenching much more frequently in order to protect stock at this time.

Outside of internal parasite control, flexibility may be adding an extra zinc bolus for cattle during a bad season of facial eczema or added bloat control measures depending on pasture conditions. There may also be examples where vaccination protocols are flexible depending on risk. For example, if heifers are to be grazed off farm, BVD vaccination may need to be considered, or if cattle are to be wintered on crop, clostridial protection may need to be ramped up (i.e. 10-in-1).

Regardless of the treatment and whether it may be deemed to be ‘flexible’ or not, it is important that you don’t make decisions without getting sound advice from a trusted animal health professional. Your vet, in most instances, should be able to advise you on the necessity of any treatment and the risks or potential outcomes of not doing so. Your local vet will also have knowledge of recent climatic/environmental conditions and risk factors that may influence the need for a particular treatment.

We should all be flexible enough with animal health treatments that we can add or remove a treatment when conditions dictate.

In order to do this correctly you need to educate yourself on the different health treatments currently used on farm, plus those that are available for your enterprise, and what each treatment is trying to achieve. Use this knowledge, along with the known risk factors, to justify the need (or not) for any particular treatment. Follow this up with close monitoring of the stock and environmental conditions to assess whether your decision was the right one and make any necessary adjustments.

To summarise, many animal health treatments can be flexible in one way or another, it is just requires the right knowledge and careful monitoring to gain the confidence to make decisions that may differ from the norm.

  • Andrew Cochrane is a Southland vet.