Plan and monitor for control

Vet Trevor Cook gets confirmation of the value of being in control and minimising risks.

In Livestock6 Minutes

Vet Trevor Cook gets confirmation of the value of being in control and minimising risks.

Early in June I spent two nights in an ICU ward in a supporting role. I was so impressed with the level of monitoring and the level of response to the signals. I really got the impression that the medical people were in control.

There were clearly things beyond their control, but they seemed to have minimised those. They had lowered the risk of something going wrong.

Last month I completed a risk analysis of a large farming business which highlighted the number of areas where influence can be wielded. There were 16 broad areas but within each were many more “items”. Many, if not most mitigating actions were captured in planning and a very common part of that planning was monitoring.

I have mentioned before about what I see as a determining feature of high performing farming systems. It is being in control and minimising risks. This means leaving as little as possible to the things that cannot be controlled. Like weather and feed.

For all farming systems there are packages of industry best practice. How much these apply to each farming business is specific to that business. Take vaccination programmes for example. For most of the major infectious diseases that we have there is a vaccine that will either prevent or minimise that disease.

Having a vaccination programme in place that covers the known infection challenges for the farm goes a long way to being in control. I do recall a farmer not long ago who had a vaccination plan but forgot to give his ewe lambs Toxovax. A process that schedules actions in a plan must accompany that plan.

Trace element deficiencies are another area in which almost full control can be applied. Monitoring to know a status and applying appropriate supplements is a proven approach to not suffer from production losses due to deficiencies. Where I see this not working is when the wrong type of supplement is being used or when the status changes.

A common change is in the aftermath of applying lime. This will lower copper availability by lifting the molybdenum levels. Updating the status every three or so years is wise, especially when fertiliser or lime applications have either changed or begun.

The more and longer summer drys in some areas will be changing the status of both macro and trace elements.

Being in control of worms on farms is a hard one. On some farms there is excellent control. That can never be the case if that control is via regular drenching. Planning and monitoring is the cornerstone of getting control. This is an area that really frustrates me because of the lack of enough monitoring tools, but we can still make huge progress with what we have.

I was faced last year with a new client on whose farm there was severe triple drench resistance in a system in which lambs were drenched every month for six months. Before last winter we set out a grazing plan for summer and the outcome has been spectacular in that most lambs not sold at weaning got one to two drenches. Planning and monitoring were the keys to give that farmer a lot of control.

The area that being in control brings the most reward is feed. Profitability of our pastoral farms is driven by how much feed we grow and how much we utilise. Weather has a massive impact on how much we grow and there is probably a bigger variability in that now.

The feed demand on our farms is very predictable. Manipulating the demand against the supply is where control is exerted.

Minimising any loss in long spells of dryness is also about being in control. We can never be totally in control but those good farmers have less variability in their annual production.

Last month I came across a farming business that was exemplifying being in control and not just taking what the season delivered. That farm had an extraordinary growing season resulting in much more pasture being taken into the winter than usual.

The manager had remembered the last time that the summer had delivered such and the consequence of not doing enough in response. Lamb weaning weights were well back because of lowered pasture quality the next spring. So this autumn he had bought hundreds of empty cows, beef and dairy, and had them behind wires on hills. He will make a small margin on those cattle, but the big payback will be lamb weaning weights. I was so impressed with him taking actions to influence the outcome. Being in control.