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Maximising a herd health plan positively and effectively

While many farmers may have a herd health plan gathering dust on the shelf having been written to satisfy farm assurance criteria, the benefits of a proactive and ongoing herd health plan cannot be underestimated.

Disease prevention and continually striving to improve animal health and welfare is one of the major challenges farmers face in maintaining sustainable profitable businesses.

Here are some top tips on how to turn herd health planning from a tick box exercise into an active and responsive plan.

Knowing your disease status

A well thought-through herd health plan is a good place to start. It should outline the disease status of the farm along with the key challenges and areas of risk, provide a framework for putting disease prevention strategies such as vaccination in place and how existing issues are to be tackled, measure and monitor animal health and productivity, as well as constantly looking at ways to improve biosecurity and management procedures. Building on these foundations will not only lead to improved animal health productivity, but increased profitability.

Indoor housed cattle

Case study: Good relationships key to successful herd health planning

Fiona Skeen and her son Graham run a 175-head commercial beef herd near Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, and have been working with Iain McCormick, Galedin Vets, for 10 years. They believe his knowledge of their business is beneficial to both parties.

Mr McCormick says: “Obviously, in cases of emergency other vets will attend the farm, but in our practice, vets tend to have their own clients, meaning they can establish a good relationship with them and importantly know the history of the farm and its health challenges.

The Skeen’s have a written herd health plan which we sit down and discuss and tweak every year, but aside from that, we are health planning ‘on the hoof’ all the time having conversations about what to do next. Recording and monitoring is a vital part of health planning. If you do not know what is happening on-farm and cannot measure it then you cannot plan.

Much of Fiona’s recording is handwritten which is fine as she still has all the information to hand, but as a vet practice we are starting to use an online data programme. This enables the farmer and vet to input and access data.

It is all about assessing risk with regard to diseases and situations and deciding what the priorities are to target while being aware this may change. A good herd plan is constantly evolving.”

Red Tractor advice

Herd health plans and records of medicine use are required to be accurate and up to date for a farm to pass its Red Tractor audit. According to Philippa Wiltshire, Red Tractor head of external affairs, farmers usually keep good records, but may fail to fill in all the necessary information which an assessor needs to see.

She says: “In dairy health plans, for example, we find information is not always recorded on issues such as mastitis and lameness and the medicines used to treat them. “In medical records, the reason for treatment and the reason for culling or death of stock is one of the most common omissions.”

A guide to avoiding non-conformances can be found on the Red Tractor website at


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