Friday, January 20, 2012

Veterinary herd health management programs

When I started with my MSc project at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (back in 1989; a long time ago :-), at the department called at that time Herd health and reproduction, the professor of that department (and later my promotor during my PhD), prof. Arie Brand was on a mission to convince the Dutch and world veterinarians that veterinary herd health and management programs are the future. The trends he and others saw are still there: increasing herd seizes, and decreasing sales of skills and drugs. However, those developments were less quick than anticipated. Yes, more and more veterinary practises see herd health management as an important part of their practise, but a large part of the income of veterinary practises is still generated by the sales of skills and drugs. It seems to be difficult to earn a decent profit on the sales of "advisorship time".

Currently, at least in the Dutch veterinary world, there is much uncertainty and discussion about the future. Dutch dairy farms are growing rapidly in seize and that means the attitude of dairy farmers is changing. Dairy farmers are less and less people that accept what you say, but are becoming more and more people that work in partnerships. And being a vet in that changing environment is a challenging task.

Veterinarians have to adapt to that new situation. In my opinion, herd health management programs should move beyond the classic monthly farm visits for pregnancy checks and talks about production records. Tailor made programs should be created to meet the farmers requirements around dairy cattle health. Requirements might differ between farmers and veterinarians should move away from the "one seize fits all approach". Modern cattle veterinary practice is about making life of farmers with regard to animal health easier. The costs and benefits of the offered programs become more important, although that is not the only decision criterium of the farmers. Veterinarians should develop "tools" that can be used in herd health management programs, especially when you want to distinguish yourself from your colleague-competitors (other vet practises or other advisors) on the farm advisory market. In the Netherlands standard tools, based on MPR data are offered in the PiR-DAP program (http://www.pir-dap.nl/) and are a great support for herd health programs.

Although I belief that herd health management programs are effective, there has not been much research done. In the old days (1970's) a very interesting project has been carried out on herd health programs (published in a series of papers by Jan Sol et al in 1984 in the Veterinary Quarterly) where it was shown in a great intervention study that herd health programs did have an important effect on the  profitability of dairy farms. One of my own MSc theses showed that the beneficial effects did not sustain when the project was ended and herd health management programs were not continued (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/016758779290035E).

It is great that last year Marjolein Derks started her work as PhD at the department of Farm Animal Health of Utrecht University (financed by CRV) on the effectivity of herd health programs and the possibility to develop new support tools.

Last year I gave two presentations aimed at dairy cattle veterinarians. One on the specific demands of larger dairy farms for herd health management programs (at least my vision on those demands): http://www.slideshare.net/henkhogeveen/2011-0329-pir-dap-bijeenkomsten held four times for veterinarians that were part of the PiR-DAP program. The other one was held during the lustrum meeting of the the Dutch Society for large ruminant Veterinarians and dealt with the value of the veterinary practitioner for dairy farms http://www.slideshare.net/henkhogeveen/value-of-veterinary-services

The coming years are going to be interesting years for the veterinary profession, that is one thing that is clear.

7 comments:

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