In this week's paper, we look at what turned out to be one of the most important challenges in the programme – the herd health challenge.
The objective of this challenge was firstly, to establish what the main diseases/ailments on suckler farms were, and then to put in place robust herd health plans. The aim was to create a plan that favoured the targeted use of vaccines, as opposed to antibiotics, and optimum herd management and husbandry practices.
Even from the early days of the programme, the importance of herd health on suckler farms quickly became apparent. While no farm had overly significant health issues at the start of the programme, as stocking rates increased and added pressure started to weigh on the system, cracks in herd health began to appear.
Some farmers learned the hard way, but they are all in a much stronger position now.
Before we even start to talk about vaccines or dosing, one of the stand out learnings was the importance of animal management and animal husbandry. Tasks such as weaning, castration and even diets were tweaked on most farms, delivering huge benefits.
Something as simple as condition scoring dry cows, not over or under-feeding them during the winter and allocating pre-calving minerals and soya bean meal made marked differences during calving. It really was a matter of doing the simple things well.
And then there was housing. As numbers in sheds increased, a red flag was raised in terms of ventilation on some farms. For most, the changes needed to increase inlet and outlet airflow were very straightforward and when made, they also made big differences.
Once these simple changes were made, improvements were immediately evident. However, to fully shield the herd from infection, many farmers chose to follow rigid vaccination and dosing regimes.
These regimes, are detailed in full in this week's Irish Farmers Journal.
To conclude, as farmers worked alongside their vets and advisers, the common consensus was that the full benefit of vaccines and doses could only be obtained once herd management and animal husbandry skills were up to scratch.
In this week's paper we also take a look at two case studies from farms which benefited more than most from the herd health challenge.