Health Management – what do Survivors, Doers, Managers & Leaders do differently?

Paul Henman, Promar Senior Consultant, considers how different approaches to health management can impact on farm performance.

Maintaining high herd health status must be a priority for all dairy farms, reducing the incidence of disease to improve productivity. The difference between the best performing and other farms in their success in reducing problems, is how they approach the management of cow health.

The first management difference is attitude. The most successful managers take the approach that all animal disease is preventable, or at least its incidence can be reduced. For example, you can reduce cell counts and mastitis, you can have fewer lame cows and reduce the severity of cases.

They don’t accept that disease is unavoidable and just happens, therefore they might as well just “accept it”. If disease incidence increases then there must be a reason and by finding the reason you can reduce the problem.

The second management difference is understanding that a holistic approach needs to be taken to reduce problems. There is never a single reason. Take mastitis as an example; factors contributing to more cases will include genetics, nutrition, milking routine, parlour maintenance, dry cow therapy and housing to name a few. Reducing problems requires that all factors are considered and addressed.

For example, it might require refresher training in milking technique, a change in dairy chemicals, having a dynamic milking machine test, reviewing cubicle bedding, feeding a different balance of minerals, or changes to how infected cows are treated. Most likely a combination of all of these.

The third difference is that planning and prevention are more effective than firefighting. Detailed protocols are developed to ensure all tasks are carried out correctly and that records are used to improve management.

The successful business will have a plan which is delivered to maintain health. It will include such things as regular staff training, strict procedures for biosecurity, the adoption of vaccination programmes and full use of records. All staff will be familiar with the plan and their role in it. The business will commit to new technologies like tag and testing calves for BVD.

The final difference is a willingness to invest in herd health and welfare. It is one of those areas where the true cost of problems is often not measured. You see a bill from the vet – but don’t get a cheque for having had fewer mastitis cases.

The successful business will invest in farm training, regular vet visits, bring in a professional foot trimmer at key times, and in specialist services like milking machine testing and mastitis consultancy. They know the return will be measured in reduced incidence of problems, a healthier herd and more motivated staff, even if they don’t get a direct income from better health.

Just as health issues are often a hidden cost, the benefits of good health practice are often a hidden benefit, taking time to develop and filter onto the bottom line.

The diagram below shows how we find different types of managers approach health management. Where does your approach sit and where are the opportunities to improve?