Despite our knowledge of the proper management and care of dairy cattle, along with decades of herd health and production medicine practice, there seems to be just as much — if not more — disease on dairies today.
According to the last three National Animal Health Monitoring System surveys, producer-reported rates of clinical mastitis and lameness have steadily increased. The problem is we often don’t know whether best management practices are consistently and effectively being implemented on our clients’ dairies.
This calls into question the validity of the veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) that establishes the veterinary supervision needed for prescription and extra-label drug use. Veterinarians can play a vital role in helping producers capitalize on opportunities to improve health management and hopefully decrease disease incidence.
TWO KEY CHANGES NEEDED
Improvements in the well-being, health and productivity of dairy cattle in our care will likely require two key changes in the industry. First, health needs to be managed more like reproduction and milk production. It needs to be based on evidence derived from the herd rather than perceptions of the individual cow. This will require accurate, consistent health records and the tools to quickly and easily evaluate them. Second, dairy veterinarians need to be more engaged in health management services, including health-data recording to ensure the consistent, effective implementation of best management practices. This will be a change in how we do business. We need to establish the value of these services in our clients’ minds and make time to provide them. These two points are highlighted by a recent study of dairy health management. In the summer of 2012, veterinary student interns, supported by Pfizer Animal Health (now Zoetis), assessed health management practices on 105 dairies with over 80,000 cows. Using a tool developed at Washington State University as part of a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the interns observed the diagnosis, treatment and recordkeeping practices for mastitis, metritis, pneumonia and lameness. They compared observations with stated and recorded disease identification and drug use, as well as reviewed drug labels to assess the appropriateness of therapies, product labeling and completeness of health records.
Participating dairies all had ongoing relationships with their veterinarians and believed they had good records.