• Sinead Quealy

Pay Attention: Why and how to make a Farm Health Plan

Updated: May 5

VirtualVet is currently busy supporting and preparing farmers, veterinary surgeons and processors in advance of new EU legislation on routine antibiotic use coming in to force in January 2022. Alongside the new legislation on antibiotic use, animal welfare is coming under greater scrutiny at both national and EU level. Public consultation is currently ongoing with stakeholders providing feedback which will be published in early 2022, and new EU animal welfare legislation proposals in 2023.


Rules and guidelines are constantly changing for farmers. But help is available. And in a way that is sometimes undervalued, farm health planning. As part of most farm audits now, it is a requirement to have an animal health plan in place. Often these plans are viewed as box-ticking exercises. However, there is evidence that when implemented and followed they can protect and grow profit margin.


Here we present some of the evidence we found to encourage a warmer embrace of farm health planning.


Profit Margin & Health Planning


XLVets ran a pilot programme in the UK. In one instance, a farmer and vet worked together to first establish areas they needed to look at and secondly what they wanted to achieve. The areas they focused on were fertility, infectious disease, nutrition, care of young stock and management of the dry period.


Biggest financial return of £69 (€79) per cow was made by improving fertility. Heat detection was improved by 20% reducing the calving to service interval which was made possible by fertility records and employing a technician service for heat detection. Another gain was vaccinating for leptospirosis through testing of cows that had abortions. Whilst the resulting vaccines came at a cost the net positive benefit of £31 (€36) per cow.


The previous year 26 calves died; 10 died of joint ill & naval ill, 12 calves died before weaning and 4 died after weaning. They focused on improving hygiene in the calving area, calf pens and focused on the newborn calf to receive 3 litres of colostrum as routine. These improvements resulted in two calf deaths the following calving period.


This echoes the findings by Teagasc in an Irish context when they carried out a calf to beef an animal health planning in April 2019. On one farm actions were put in place focusing on calf rearing.

These included:

• Batch vaccinates calves/weanlings rather than individual vaccination.

• Clean needle for every vaccination.

• Vaccine is stored in the fridge and administers the vaccine on a dry day rather than a damp wet day which could lead to infection.


The health plan resulted in zero antibiotic usage for pneumonia from calf to weanling and as of August 2019 they were averaging at 13kg’s heavier than previous years.


Back in the XLVets case, changing the dry period from 88 days to an average 73 days, milk solids increased on average by 22 litres per cow. This could be achieved through improved records identifying when cows held service. With no additional costs this resulted in an estimated gain of £66 (€76) per cow. The farmer believes that farm health planning is an ongoing process so by regularly monitoring and reviewing he feels that there is possibly another £70 (€80) per cow to be generated through improved health.


Make a start


Sit down and give yourself the time to really think about something you would like to improve in your herd or flock health. When you are clear about the problem talk to your vet about possible solutions that are practical for your farm. Agree on a to-do list to tackle the issue. Record the steps you take and review progress and results with your vet throughout the year. Veterinary advice can be seen a cost, but prevention is always better than the cure.


When a relatively small investment in vaccines, disinfectants or other preventative medicine saves later losses in the form of deaths, reduced production, increased labour hours and treatment costs, investing in veterinary advice could be money and time well spent.


Robbie Flynn contributed to this article.