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The high cost of disease – can you afford not to vaccinate?

Managing disease in dairy herds using a full vaccination programme can not only improve animal health and welfare, but increase profitability, with healthy cows working efficiently to maximise production. Therefore, it also helps towards being more sustainable.

Anything which impacts on this, such as a disease outbreak, will have far-reaching implications, not least on the bottom line.

Many diseases, such as BVD and IBR, which reduce milk yield, fertility, feed conversion efficiency and lifetime production, are preventable by vaccination along with effective biosecurity and management regimes.

Steph Small, MSD Animal Health dairy veterinary adviser, says: “By taking a proactive approach to disease prevention by using vaccines, you are safeguarding the health of the herd."

Research shows that farmers often only vaccinate if they think they have a disease problem or there is a perceived risk of disease, but by this time a disease can have taken hold and damage is being done.

“One of the issues is that in some cases there are obvious clinical signs of disease, but in other instances subclinical disease may be present and impacting on performance without the farmer being aware of it and accepting current levels as ‘the norm.

Diseases such as BVD and IBR are immunosuppressive, leading to animals becoming more susceptible to other diseases, such as scour and respiratory problems, with the two issues not always being obviously connected."

“Before starting a vaccination programme, it is advisable to know your disease status, as priorities will be different depending on if you have a disease in the herd already or not."

Making a plan 

“This will involve working with your vet to test for disease, then depending on the findings, implementing a plan to either keep it out or eradicate it.

In starting a vaccination programme, your vet will be able to advise as to the most cost-effective way to progress.

In some cases, vaccines for more than one disease can be administered at the same time, so with careful planning handling of animals, can be kept to a minimum.”

Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassador William Westacott does not breed any of his own dairy replacements, but instead imports 45-50 Holstein heifers from Germany every spring.

Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassador William Westacott
Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassador William Westacott

He says: “Economic milk production is the key focus of our business. We are not really interested in the breeding side and we can buy heifers abroad cheaper than we could rear our own.

Herd health is also a major consideration as I do not want to bring any disease onto the farm. Germany has BVD and IBR under control, so I know heifers are disease-free when they arrive.

I cannot afford any problems after this, so even though we do not have any near neighbours with cattle, as an insurance policy and for peace of mind, they are quarantined and started on a vaccination programme for BVD, IBR and leptospirosis on arrival.

This system works for us in ensuring we keep a healthy herd.”

Cost of disease in UK herds


  • The between herd prevalence of BVD in the UK is estimated to be 20%, with cost of the disease to UK cattle (beef and dairy) at about £40 million per year1
  • The mean cost per cow is estimated to be £46.50, which is mostly attributed to fertility losses; this does not take into account the financial cost of secondary infections due to immune suppression2


  • In the UK, BHV-1, which causes IBR, is estimated to be present in 70% of herds, costing £36 million per year3
  • Subclinical infection is estimated to cost £200/cow/year to dairy herds in lost income as a result of reduced milk yield4


This article was first published on

1, ADAS, 2015;
2, Yarnall and Thrusfield, 2017;
3, CHAWG, 2014;
4, Statham et al, 2015


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