Preventative approach to disease offers solid returns

Pictured is Ian Graham from MSD Animal Health along with farmer Beattie Lilburn.
Pictured is Ian Graham from MSD Animal Health along with farmer Beattie Lilburn.

A Co Down farmer who has adopted a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to disease says that investing in preventative medicine has impacted positively on overall animal health and productivity, as well as significantly reducing antibiotic and veterinary treatment costs on his dairy farm.

Beattie Lilburn, who farms 250 cattle with his wife and two sons at Hillcrest farm near Dromore, operates a closed herd and works closely with Lisburn Veterinary Clinic to plan and manage an extensive vaccination programme which ensures that animal health is the number one priority year round.

“The vaccinations can seem like a significant outlay initially, but when compared with the cost of treating sick animals, it’s a very sensible investment to make,” said Beattie.

“Simply put, prevention is cheaper than treatment. Since we began a full vaccination programme we have had very few issues with sick animals and no losses. This is not only paying dividends financially, but it also makes for a happier working environment for everyone, as dealing with devastating diseases like BVD, pneumonia and IBR can really take its toll.’’

The Lilburns supply milk to Strathroy Dairy and are consistently producing milk with high fat and protein percentages, with minimum use of antibiotics. Vaccinations they are currently using include Bovipast® RSP against pneumonia, Bovilis® BVD against BVD, Bovivac® S against Salmonellosis, Bovilis® IBR Marker Live against IBR and Leptavoid® H against leptospirosis.

Joy Crawford of Lisburn Vet Clinic, who has worked with the Lilburns for seven years, credits them for being steadfast in their approach to protecting animal health and having a strong ethos of continuous improvement. “This farm has gone from being a very good farm to being a truly exceptional one,” said Joy. “The Lilburns are very demanding of themselves, and in turn of us as their veterinary advisors! They don’t want to hear about what a good job they’re doing, they always want to know how they can be even better. Our relationship is very much based on collaboration and communication. We would rarely be called out to the farm to treat sick animals: what we are focused on are key interventions at the earliest possible stage, assessing performance on a regular basis, and looking at how we can enable the farm to take things to the next level.”

Beattie continued: “We calve from mid-August until around the end of December, so this is a very intensive period for us. Last year we calved 140 cows in eight weeks – so there’s simply no time for health issues if we are to meet our targets. Our relationship with our vet is key to ensuring our standards are consistently high. We don’t want to have our egos massaged and told that we’re doing well – we want to know how we can beat last year’s performance! We need to see year on year improvements – that’s what inspires and motivates us.

“Our commitment to disease prevention is enabling us to deliver higher quality, natural milk, which is ultimately delivering what our customer, and the end consumer wants. I am a strong advocate of opting for a preventative approach rather than taking a chance and risking expensive treatment costs, increased animal mortality and added stress. Investing in an extensive vaccination programme means we are taking control of what we can, keeping animal health at the heart of our business, and consistently meeting our performance targets.”