They hear but don’t listen

Vet Trevor Cook has changed focus when talking to farmers about the risks of drench resistance in sheep.

In Livestock6 Minutes

Vet Trevor Cook has changed focus when talking to farmers about the risks of drench resistance in sheep.

My visits to farms over the past couple of months have spanned a wide range of issues.

Unfortunately the most common has been drench resistance in sheep. I am getting very tired of this topic because it has been warned of for years and has been the focus of endless extension sessions.

Any pride in my role in this was dashed when I presented to a group of high profile farmers who did admit to not applying any of the mitigating actions that have been advised and promoted for many years.

What made it most galling was that I had presented to many in this group for the past 30 odd years. Says a lot about my effectiveness in assisting change.

Any excitement that I get out of this topic now is to plan management actions that allow less dependence on drenches. The focus shifts completely to production and not drenches. It is amazing what can be achieved with that focus change.

But outside that topic there have been some extremes. Severe under performance and very high performance.

The severe dry for much of the west North Island has been behind some very poor pregnancy scanning results. Visits to farms over the past couple of months cannot change that, but if that poor result sparks a mindset change to not let that happen again it can be very powerful.

Actions can be taken that lessen the impact. I was on one farm that had a 30% drop in scanning and later that day on another farm not far away that was back less than 10%. Actions can be taken such as supplementing ewes, summer crops, tail end focus, providing facial eczema protection – even just having an action plan can reduce the risk. But changing the stocking mix and policy to lessen the competition for the ewes when feed is getting short can also be effective.

For the farm that had only a small scanning drop, showed that through taking actions to protect the ewes, the focus was still to lessen that exposure. Reinforcing and refining those actions was on the agenda but also looking at policy changes that overall reduced the exposure to very dry summers. The result in theory at least from looking at those changes was that they should deliver more profit. A real win win.

At the other extreme was a new farming business, or more accurately an old farming business on a new farm. This business was doing about $400/ha EFS on unfriendly hills. It shifted to a farm that should do a $2700/ha EFS is such a change that it is almost scary. A simple lamb and bull policy can produce that profit but only if performance levels and stocking rate are high.

Delivering that profit is yet to happen but early wins have put it well on the way. The infrastructure, capability and planning are all in place to support that outcome. That is excitement.

In those two months there have been two farm visits that were totally focused on greenhouse gas management. A first for me where GHG management has been the primary reason for discussion.

That discussion was about policy changes and looking at the greenhouse gas impact. I think we are a very long way from that being a widespread focus for farms, but it has started for some. It was not as scary as the farmers expected and the financial outcomes from changes that did drop the number for both farms were positive.

I have been suggesting this to be taken into account when dealing with the management changes talked about above to cope with drench resistance. While none of these farms have been excited about including that in the mix, it will probably need to be in time.

It is very frustrating that for all the talk and publicity we do not know just where we are and what is expected of us. I must admit to enjoying the process of testing policies and the impact on profitability but less excited about the greenhouse gas outcome. It has the feeling of having to rather than wanting to.