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Myth-busting – overcoming the barriers to vaccination in the dairy sector

Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
Myth-busting – overcoming the barriers to vaccination in the dairy sector

Using preventative-led solutions on a dairy farm can help to tackle some of the persistent misconceptions about endemic diseases. Stephanie Small, MSD Animal Health’s Dairy Sector Veterinary Advisor considers the role of vaccinations in improving herd health, productivity and farm business profitability, while putting some common disease-related myths to bed.

  • Myth: ‘It won’t happen on our farm’


    • It’s important to be aware of the most likely disease risks. Of unvaccinated UK dairy herds 46% have tested antibody positive for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD)1. With this scale of BVD’s prevalence, it’s likely your livestock will have been exposed to this disease at some point.


    • Adopting more proactive strategies to manage herd health can reduce the chances of disease entering and spreading through farms. Protect against incoming disease by implementing robust biosecurity measures and ensuring good management, including animal husbandry and hygiene practices. This should be supported with constant disease surveillance through regular testing and having a vaccination programme in place.
  • Myth: ‘If other farms vaccinate then I don’t need to’


    • As has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone can to do their bit to stop the virus spreading and preventing animal diseases is no different.


    • The BVD Free initiative has shown how the industry can work together. This eradication strategy is centred around surveillance, vaccination, and the removal of persistently infected animals. The control of the disease can only been achieved through farmer participation in the eradication strategy. 
  • Myth: ‘I know my herd better than anyone’


    • Having an open and honest relationship with your vet is important. Guidance from external experts can often be invaluable and help save money.


    • Make sure your vet understands the business’s aims and objectives. Together you should work through any animal health challenges with a focus on herd health planning and analysing data in line with Red Tractor audit requirements.


    • Subclinical infections present a real challenge as they're often invisible day-to-day, so developing proactive control strategies and diagnostics, such as bulk milk sampling, will ensure you can monitor and determine disease status regularly.


    • A compliant whole herd vaccine programme with timely booster vaccines combined with regular tissue, blood and bulk milk sampling to monitoring disease prevalence will ensure you know your herd’s disease status.
  • Myth: ‘I’ll know when my cows are sick’


    • Taking a more preventative approach to animal health and disease management can require a change of mindset for both farmers and vets. While farmers are often the first to notice when their animals are sick, vets should also be encouraging producers to implement changes and diagnostics to prevent diseases in the first place to avoid firefighting scenarios.


    • Veterinary advice should be viewed as an investment rather than as a cost. With tight margins here to stay, the cost of disease outbreaks is too high to ignore.


    • True disease costs are hard to quantify, as many diseases can be present subclinically, without animals displaying overt symptoms. For example, BVD symptoms can vary from reduced feed intake to poor fertility and is a significant drain on efficiency and productivity. The reported economic impact can be up to £552 per cow per year.2 Another disease with hidden costs is Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) as it can be shed throughout the life of cows after a primary infection without any overt clinical signs. These subclinical IBR infections are estimated to cost £200 per year per dairy cow in reduced income due to milk loss.3


  2. Yarnall Thrusfield-VetRec-2017-Engaging veterinarians and farmers in eradicating BVD a systematic review of economic impact (2)

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