John Wenz, DVM, MS, is an associate professor with the Field Disease Investigation Unit at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In my last Bovine Veterinarian article (July/August 2013) I wrote about “Opportunities to improve dairy health management.” I ended saying dairy veterinarians need to capitalize on opportunities to become more engaged in health management and establish the value of such professional service.
Progress has been made with development of protocols outlining health-management best practices for typically larger operations with a hired workforce. Yet, health-management assessments performed across the country found only 50 percent or fewer dairies have written protocols for the identification and treatment of the common diseases of dairy cattle. Many veterinarians are training employees on the hows and whys of those protocols. But just over half the farms with written protocols were following them as written. Sharing what was observed during hospital pen treatments with attending veterinarians, they too often said, “They are doing what?” or “No, that’s not what we do.” Protocol drift has become almost accepted as an inevitability on the dairy.
If you don’t know that intended best practices are consistently being implemented you don’t have a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR). This is a concern for every veterinarian who wants to be a trusted, valued health-management advisor to his or her dairy clients. If you developed the protocol, you better make sure dairy personnel are compliant. If that protocol doesn’t pan out because it wasn’t consistently, effectively implemented you lose credibility. That is why the VCPR is so important. That is why I think controlling the input processes that impact health (process management) and health-data management are keys to the future of dairy practice.
Harry S. Truman said, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” This article presents nothing new but intends to outline a practice model focused on effective implementation of health-management best practices.
How reproductive exams became known as “herd health”
In 1968, Dr. David Morrow published a paper in the Journal of Dairy Science entitled “Programmed Dairy Herd Health.” At about that time there were 12 million dairy cows in the United States on nearly 650,000 dairies, with an average herd size of 19 cows. The paper describes a general health program best implemented by monthly veterinarian visits to the farm. The program was predicated on the idea that “The most important single factor responsible for the rapid recovery of a sick animal is early veterinary diagnosis and treatment.” This was a new practice model at the time. Rather than waiting for problems to occur, farmers should schedule monthly veterinarian visits.