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Farm animal practice
Cattle health schemes
  1. Jonathan Statham

2. Multifactorial or management diseases


Multifactorial or management diseases such as mastitis, lameness, infertility, calf pneumonia and calf diarrhoea represent significant costs for both the dairy and beef industries. A number of cattle health schemes, comprising a variety of tools and services, have thus evolved to help control these conditions. This article describes how these programmes might be used to provide proactive veterinary herd health. Cattle health schemes aimed at single-agent infectious disease control were discussed in an article published in the May issue of In Practice (volume 33, pp 210–217).

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Jonathan Statham graduated from Cambridge in 1996. He is a partner in Bishopton Veterinary Group, a 19-vet practice in Yorkshire and a member of XLVets, and runs the practice's cattle breeding service. He is a director of RAFT (Research, Advanced Breeding, Food Futures, Training) Solutions, a new training, breeding and research company. He joined the council of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) in 2005, and is chair of its Herd Health Management and Endemic Disease Group. He is a member of the Cattle Health and Welfare Group (CHAWG), the Nottingham Dairy Herd Health Group and the Farmskills Steering Group. He is senior vice president of the Yorkshire Veterinary Society, and holds the RCVS certificate in cattle health and production.

Vets and food animal production

The concept of prevention over cure has been advocated since the late 19th century (Woods 2007). This more preventive approach to veterinary practice has continued to be recommended repeatedly since 1938 by various government-commissioned inquiries into the profession, culminating in 2009 with publication of the Lowe report on veterinary expertise in food animal production (Lowe 2009).

Policy discussions on farm health planning demonstrated a widespread assumption that its preventive, herd-based approach represents a radical departure from farmers' and vets' traditional ‘fire brigade’ focus to treating individual sick animals. However, although ‘farm health planning’ is a novel term, there is evidence that cattle health schemes were on the agenda more than 70 years ago when the National Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA) (now the British Veterinary Association) formed a committee to consider how veterinary services could be used to the greatest national advantage.

The NVMA's ‘survey committee’ gathered evidence on the incidence and impact of dairy cattle disease and the available control methods. This committee's first report, issued in 1940, branded the veterinary practitioner as a ‘physician of the farm and guarantor of the nation’s food supply'. It estimated that over £17 million or 200 million gallons of milk were lost each year as a result of four diseases: contagious abortion, sterility, mastitis and Johne's disease. At the time, breeding problems alone were responsible for a loss of £11 million. The committee therefore proposed that vets apply their services under a ‘scheme for the control of certain diseases of dairy cattle’ (commonly known as the ‘survey’ or ‘panel’ scheme). This scheme involved practising vets attending farms at least four times a year, focusing their attention on these four diseases, in exchange for a flat fee payable by farmers. As part of this scheme, vets would assess herd health and reproductive status, advise on disease prevention and perform designated treatments. The committee advised that, in return, the then Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF) (now Defra) should publicise the scheme and provide a subsidised brucellosis vaccine, and that participating farmers must keep breeding records and seek professional advice at the first sign of illness (Woods 2007).

The status of the various cattle health schemes and tools discussed in this article is subject to rapid change. New schemes are constantly being added and established schemes are continually being modified. It is therefore important that readers refer to the MRO and levy body websites for the most up-to-date information. A wide range of regional cattle health schemes are emerging under the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE), but fall outside the scope of this article (see RDPE and Defra websites for more information).

Cost of poor health


Clinical mastitis incidence was estimated at between 41 and 70 cases/100 cows/year in 2007 (Bradley and others 2007). The range in financial losses caused by clinical mastitis is vast, ranging from less than 0.6 pence per litre (ppl) to more than 6 ppl. A central estimate for the cost of a moderate clinical case of mastitis is £521 (Green 2009). Esselmont and Kossaibati (2002) estimated the direct cost of an average case of mastitis to be £103.71 (total costs = £177.17).


The incidence of lameness in the UK dairy industry has been estimated to be around 25 per cent, with the top quartile at 5·8 per cent compared with 50·3 per cent in the bottom (Whitaker and others 2000). Recent research as part of the Healthy Feet Project (see below) found lameness prevalence to be 36·8 per cent (range 0 to 79·2 per cent) on 227 study farms, where lameness was defined as cows with a mobility score of 2 and 3. The milk loss attributable to sole ulcers in this study was estimated to be 570 kg/case (Amory and others 2006). Esselmont and Kossaibati (2002) estimated the direct cost of an average case of digital lameness to be £89.58 (total costs = £187.29).

Calf pneumonia

Andrews (2000) estimated the cost of a pneumonia outbreak to be £30 per calf in dairy herds. The total cost of respiratory disease to the UK cattle industry is estimated to be £60 million.

Calf diarrhoea

Diarrhoea is the most common disease in young calves and the greatest single cause of death in these animals. It affects over 30 per cent of all calves born alive and causes almost 50 per cent of calf deaths. Calf diarrhoea is one of the costliest diseases to affect suckled calf production, with average losses in the order of £33 per calf at risk.

Coordinated health schemes

In the same way that laboratories have developed cattle health schemes for single-agent disease control that are accredited by Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) (see Statham 2011), milk recording organisations (MROs) have developed a series of tools and services relating especially to multifactorial or management diseases such as mastitis and lameness. Although these services are predominantly based on software tools for milk recording purposes, they have the ability to record health and fertility events, medicine usage, births and cattle movements. Veterinary access to this data through online tools allows analysis of farm trends and benchmarking comparisons to be made, and this synergy has led to the emergence of a number of coordinated health schemes, some of which are discussed below.

Industry-led cattle health schemes


The current national mastitis control initiative, led by DairyCo in partnership with the University of Nottingham and Quality Milk Management Services (QMMS), is a good example of an industry-led partnership scheme set up to control endemic disease (in this case mastitis) in the UK dairy cattle population. The scheme aims to reach 750 dairy herds and 150 veterinary surgeons and advisers by the beginning of 2012.

Practitioners registered with the scheme undergo two days of intensive CPD training, led by RCVS-recognised specialists, on the use and interpretation of data patterns within herds, herd-level diagnosis and implementation of the DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan. Research has shown that, for herds subscribed to this plan, on average, there was a 20 per cent reduction in the incidence of clinical mastitis after 12 months (Bradley and others 2007, Green and others 2007). This scheme provides an opportunity to control one of the most costly and debilitating diseases in cattle, both in the UK and worldwide, and could also be used as a blueprint for other endemic diseases.


Healthy Feet Project

The Healthy Feet Project run in conjunction with the University of Bristol's Lameness Control Programme aims to help reduce lameness in dairy cattle on UK farms and encourage farmers, vets and advisers to work together. Support from Defra and the Tubney charitable trust has facilitated the development of a website, which provides key information and tools for lameness control.

DairyCo Healthy Feet Programme

DairyCo has taken on the findings of the Healthy Feet Project and is in the process of rolling out the DairyCo Healthy Feet Programme. This will be a multi-level resource aimed at producers, and will include a mobility mentor scheme delivered by vets and other mobility professionals.

Working with the dairy industry, DairyCo launched a cattle mobility scoring system in 2008, which has become the industry standard for measuring mobility and lameness in dairy herds (Archer and others 2010). The score was developed as a result of research carried out by the industry and DairyCo over the previous 18 months and aims to eliminate the confusion between different locomotion scoring methods.

A number of major UK milk buyers and supermarkets have promoted the uptake of the DairyCo scheme over the past two years with the aim of improved UK dairy cow welfare through reduced lameness.

DairyCo has produced a mobility DVD that provides information about the best location to carry out mobility scoring, as well as advice on scoring frequency. It also outlines what points to look for when scoring cattle into each category, and gives examples of each.

Calf pneumonia

The SureCalf certification scheme was launched by Pfizer Animal Health in Scotland three years ago. It aims to give buyers assurance that their purchased calves have been vaccinated against major viral respiratory infections. The scheme was initially carried out with the support of United Auctions in Scotland. More recently, certification has been extended to include other marts in Scotland and it is also being made available to beef suckler herd producers in England, with Hexham and Northern Marts having sold the first calves under the SureCalf banner in October 2010.

The scheme is open to calves being sold from farm to farm, or through live auction markets. Animals must be more than three months of age on the date of the first vaccination. Calves should already have been vaccinated against the viral forms of respiratory disease before they arrive post-sale on farm. Calves must be vaccinated presale with two doses administered 21 to 28 days apart. The second dose must be given at least two weeks before the sale. The scheme covers the following viruses:

  • Bovine viral diarrhoea virus;

  • Respiratory syncytial virus;

  • Parainfluenza virus type 3.

  • Bovine herpesvirus type 1, which causes infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR).

Following registration, producers are sent a self-certification declaration in which they confirm that an animal is eligible for the scheme, together with a voucher for each animal. On average, since the scheme's launch, calves accompanied by SureCalf certificates have achieved a premium of about £35 compared with non-certified animals. SureCalf scheme registration is free of charge, but producer members are asked to pay for the vaccination programme, which is estimated to cost around £15 per animal.

Calf diarrhoea

Diagnostic data from around 750 calf units and over 1300 calves suffering from scour problems during 2010 have shown that rotavirus and Cryptosporidium species are still the key disease-causing organisms in the UK. These results come from the Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health ScourCheck scheme, which asked veterinary practices to submit their findings from calf-side diagnostic testing in return for free scour test kits. From the 80 veterinary practices that took part, over 32 per cent of samples were positive for Cryptosporidium species with more than 29 per cent positive for Rotavirus. The scheme also picked up other significant infectious organisms, with 235 (17·7 per cent) calves testing positive for coronavirus and 51 calves (3·8 per cent) testing positive for Escherichia coli. Many farms had a mix of the various organisms implicated in disease outbreaks. However, dam vaccination, good colostrum feeding practices and sound hygiene can significantly reduce the financial impact of these causal agents.

UK milk recording organisation health schemes and software tools

Milk recording schemes are central to dairy data management. Recent initiatives include the recording of cattle mobility by milk recorders to support the control of cattle lameness and the Herdwise Cattle Health Scheme, a cattle screening programme for Johne's disease (see Part 1).

Quality Milk Management Services

QMMS offers somatic cell counting, compositional analysis, dairy herd management and analysis software (in partnership with SUM-IT Computer Systems), bulk tank and individual cow bacteriological analysis, and other services, such as milk ELISA testing for Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), Ostertagia ostertagi and Fasciola species. In addition, it provides TotalVet dairy herd health and production analysis software for veterinary surgeons in practice, as well as access to RCVS-recognised specialist advice and support. The company also has:

  • Commercial ‘do-it-yourself’ milk recording services for dairy herds, complete with Quality Milk Manager on-farm software, which allow herds to record and monitor basic health and fertility data. In conjunction with TotalVet (which also accepts data from a variety of other sources, including Common Data Layer [CDL] files, parlour software systems [see Box 1] and other herd management packages), this gives herd advisers and veterinary surgeons access to tools to monitor and benchmark dairy herd udder health, fertility, lameness, production, and so on. QMMS has particular expertise in the collation, interpretation and monitoring of clinical and subclinical mastitis data;

  • A monitoring service for herds attempting to control and eradicate infectious disease (eg, MAP infection). This uses a milk ELISA test and the reports generated provide information on cows currently considered positive (and therefore likely to be highly infectious), those thought to be uncertain (and therefore may be infectious) and those testing negative. Cows are then re-tested as necessary, based on evidence relating to prevalence and seroconversion, which maximises the cost- effectiveness of monitoring.

Box 1: Parlour software systems

On-farm parlour software systems offer sophisticated recording systems that may also facilitate herd health management through recording and subsequent analysis. Westfalia Dairyplan (DP5), Fullwood Fusion Facto and DeLaval Alpro 7 all integrate with software tools such as InterHERD and TotalVet. Similarly, Uniform Agri and robotic milking systems such as the Lely Astronaut offer tools for analysis.

NMR InterHERD and Herd CompanionPRO

National Milk Records (NMR) provides a range of services relating to farm health planning using regular milk recording data from dairy herds. In addition to administering the single-agent infectious disease cattle health schemes discussed in Part 1, NMR uses the following herd health tools to interrogate milk recording data such as milk yield, fat, protein and somatic cell count to inform veterinary risk management of multifactorial or management disease:

  • InterHERD provides a vehicle for data entry and recording, as well as a tool for analysing a wide range of dairy data;

  • Herd CompanionPRO is a web-based benchmarking and data analysis tool. It integrates milk recording and management data with milk-derived infectious disease data via the National Milk Laboratories (NML);

  • InterHERD Plus is a new data analysis tool that is being introduced for InterHERD users. It offers a wider range of analytical functions, thus integrating some of the features of InterHERD and Herd CompanionPRO.

Cattle Information Service

In addition to core milk recording services, the Cattle Information Service (CIS) of Holstein UK has developed a series of management tools that support the management and monitoring stages of farm health planning by plotting and benchmarking the health and welfare status of individual animals, groups of animals and the whole herd:

  • Lameness and locomotion;

  • Calf scour and calf pneumonia;

  • 100- or 200-day in-calf/not in-calf rate;

  • Mastitis and milk hygiene;

  • Culls and disposals;

  • Calvings and metabolic disorders;

  • Milk profile;

  • Herd disease status.

Once a profile is established, a herd can be benchmarked against various national averages. In addition, the impact of management changes on a herd's health and welfare performance can be measured. Beyond this, there is also the option of establishing a disease testing programme on-farm.

The CIS scheme uses herd data from milk recording samples taken during regular farm visits. These data are then entered onto the system via the web and using an online medicine book. Tests available under the scheme include those for Johne's disease, bovine viral diarrhoea, leptospirosis and IBR.

The scheme also offers a paper-based system using a health wall planner to bring together information from the medicine book and milk recording. This wall planner can be accessed by every dairy farmer in the UK, free of charge.

EBLEX Beef Better Returns

The EBLEX Better Returns Programme (BRP) encourages English beef producers to evaluate their businesses to identify where improvements can be made in terms of cost reduction, environmental impact and animal performance. A programme of direct communication with livestock producers combined with practical, free events across England is backed up by a range of literature and other resources to deliver BRP skills and knowledge transfer. BRP focuses on:

  • Breeding by using estimated breeding values when selecting sires;

  • Selecting animals for slaughter according to specific market requirements and ensuring they meet target specifications;

  • Health and fertility issues, including bull/ram performance, parasite control and effective flock/herd health programmes;

  • Improved grazing management and ration control to significantly reduce feed costs;

  • Enterprise costings and performance.

Practice-based cattle health schemes

A variety of proactive cattle health schemes have emerged from progressive veterinary practice in the past 10 years. Most of these use a selection of the tools described above to offer targeted schemes for the health management of herds under their care, catering for local or regional needs, with or without ‘bureau’ approaches to record health and fertility events (see Box 2).

Box 2: An example of practice-based cattle health schemes

The author's practice runs two herd health schemes, one for dairy cattle and one for beef herds to provide proactive veterinary herd health management. The vet–farmer partnership is key to this approach, with the role of the vet as part of the wider farm team. These schemes offer:

  • A team approach that encompasses the whole practice;

  • Regular prearranged fertility visits;

  • Regular monitoring and surveillance of management diseases, such as mastitis, lameness and fertility, and single-agent infectious disease such as bovine viral diarrhoea, IBR and leptospirosis;

  • Mastitis and metabolic monitoring reports, and bimonthly benchmarking outputs;

  • Data management and analysis;

  • Prearranged focused herd health reviews;

  • Herd health management and prioritisation (ie, ‘measure, manage, monitor’);

  • Protocol generation and review;

  • A monthly subscription payment system;

  • Tiered medicines discounts;

  • Established networks with national and international expertise.

References and further reading

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