Herd health and reproduction have been ranked as top priorities for
improving the future productivity and profitability of dairy enterprises. There is a
multitude of genetic, disease, nutritional, management and physiological issues that
can dramatically alter health and reproduction. It is generally agreed that a
multidisciplinary approach is necessary if improvement is to be achieved. Herd
health schemes have evolved in the dairy industry throughout the world but the
uptake of such schemes in the UK has been low. The veterinary input to many dairy
farms is at best routine fertility visits confined to examination of the reproductive
tract, and at worst occasional emergency calls. The Dairy Herd Health and
Productivity Service (DHHPS) was established to provide the opportunity for
veterinary surgeons to lead a multidisciplinary team which can monitor health,
fertility and production and can plan remedial action, when necessary. Over a period
of twenty years it has continued to identify infertility, mastitis and lameness as the
main reasons for the involuntary disposal of dairy cows, although on some farms
BSE has been a major factor. The trend in the last few years has been for an
increase in culling for reasons of disease rather than for age or yield. The average
disease rates have remained consistently high with over 100 treatments per 100 cows
each year. Infertility, mastitis and lameness are the most common disease problems
on DHHPS farms.
Blood profiling and condition scoring have demonstrated that at least a
third of cows tested were mobilising excessive fat during the transition from the dry
period to early lactation. The DHHPS found 34.3% of 9,235 dry cows, sampled 0-
14 days before calving and 28 per cent of 20,502 cows between 5-40 days post
calving, had raised BHB blood concentrations. 30.6 per cent of the same dry cows
and 21.9 per cent of the early lactation animals had elevated NEFA results.
Blood urea was measured to reflect the current protein intake and the
protein /energy balance of the ration. 14 per cent of 9325 dry cows and 9.5 per cent
of 20502 of early lactation cows had low urea N (<1.7 mmol/1). 25 per cent of the
cows sampled between 5-40 days post partum had blood urea nitrogen
concentrations above 3.3mmol/l.
Low magnesium levels were detected throughout the year. 9.2 per cent
of 9235 dry cows and 7 per cent of 19,738 early lactation cows between 5-40 days
calved had blood magnesium concentration <0.8 mmol/1.
GSHPx was used as an indicator of selenium status. 16.3 per cent of
1,206 heifers and 4.9 per cent of 6,998 cows had low GSHPx results
Metabolic profiling can assist in identifying possible nutritional imbalances, but is
likely to be most effective when it is carried out as part of a full, systematic
investigation of the nutritional status of the herd.
A survey of farmers and veterinary surgeons who have been involved
with DHHPS indicated that they are receiving considerable benefits from the service.
The service, by combining techniques such as computerised data recording and pre-planned blood analysis, provides regular information on disease occurrence,
adequacy of nutrition and management in relation to productivity and economic
performance. The main reason for its success was the team approach. The DHHPS
has facilitated the solving of complex problems by encouraging multidisciplinary
participation and affords the opportunity for the veterinary practitioner to become
involved in giving positive advice on animal health.