The health of your dairy herd will have a huge impact on your ultimate success. The same is true of reproductive performance. Your veterinarian should be deeply involved in both of these areas. He or she should also be able to provide an independent point of view on overall herd management.

Being involved does not mean he or she examines and treats every sick animal or personally does the pregnancy exams. On smaller herds, the veterinarian tends to be more "hands on," while in larger herds farm employees often do the actual procedures. When your veterinarian does not actually do the task, he or she should participate in designing the protocols to be followed and in training you and your staff to follow those protocols. Some specific areas that need professional veterinary input include:

Vaccinations - There are numerous infectious diseases that pose a threat to you herd. Vaccination can reduce the threat dramatically, but timing of the vaccines, number of doses, combinations with other vaccinations, age and/or stage of lactation all impact the effectiveness of the overall program.

Spend time with your veterinarian to develop a sound program for your herd. Understand what vaccines are needed, what protection they provide, and when to use them.

Mastitis treatment protocols - Which drugs work best for the organisms that cause problems on your farm? How many treatments should be given? Should all cases be treated? How long must milk be withheld? What records are needed? Your veterinarian should be knowledgeable and give you guidance regarding these questions.

Examining and treating sick animals - How do you or your staff recognize when a cow or calf is sick? What basic things should you check after you realize an animal is ill? Do you have a decision tree or protocol to lead you to the proper treatment? When do you call your veterinarian and have them come out? He or she should definitely work with you on this subject.

Comfort - How does ventilation and overall comfort impact the health and performance of your herd? What can you do to minimize lameness? How does your calf and heifer housing compare to other herds? Does your herd vet talk to you about these things?

Feeding - What role does nutrition play in regards to health? What are the signs of acidosis? Are the transition diets well-designed to minimize fresh cow disease? This is an area where your nutritionist and veterinarian need to communicate, with each being well-informed of the interaction between nutrition and health.

Baby calves - Has your veterinarian helped you know when and how to assist a cow in labor? Do you manage colostrum effectively? Are you able to successfully wean 95 percent of the calves born on your farm?
Some additional questions:

  • Does your veterinarian help you interpret herd records? Are suggestions offered when numbers start going the wrong way?

  • Do they provide emergency coverage? Can you get help when animals get sick at inconvenient hours?

  • Has your veterinarian worked with you on a biosecurity policy? If you buy animals, do you have protocols to minimize the chance of bringing in disease with them?

  • Is your veterinarian part of your management team? Do you run new ideas past them? Does he or she bring new ideas to you? Do they attend your farm meetings?

  • Does your veterinarian stay up-to-date with new research and new products? Do you hear them talk of attending continuing education meetings? Do they work with other high-performing herds?

The role of the veterinarian on your farm should extend far beyond treating sick animals and doing pregnancy exams. They should be deeply involved in helping you prevent disease and reach high performance from your herd. There should be a strong working relationship between your veterinarian and your nutritionist. He or she needs to be an active member of your farm team.

This article appears on pages 38 - 39 of the January 25, 2016 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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