5 questions to ask your vet

Posted on January 29, 2019 in Dairy Performance
By Dr. Jenn Rowntree
When was the last time you and your herd veterinarian spent time together with calves?

Even if the calves are healthy, your veterinarian should still be involved in the development of calf management practices.  This includes, but is not limited to, treatment and vaccination protocols, maternity and colostrum management, ventilation audits, training of maternity and calf employees, and common calfhood procedures, such as dehorning.

As consumers grow more interested in knowing the ins and outs of where and how their food is produced, programs like The National Dairy FARM Program™ (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) and Food Armor® are gaining traction on dairies.  For example, FARM is being implemented by processors and cooperatives as a method to evaluate various management aspects on dairies and assure consumers that their dairy products are produced in an ethical and safe manner.  Both FARM and Food Armor require every herd to have a veterinarian of record (VOR) and a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to participate.

Regardless of consumer demands, the relationship with your veterinarian will be essential to your farm’s ability to sell milk at some point in the future, if not already a requirement.  Veterinarians have knowledge of diseases and how management can impact an animal’s susceptibility to developing clinical signs of disease.  When a veterinarian has an intimate understanding of your operation, he or she can apply this knowledge to your farm and help identify risk factors that may contribute to both disease and production performance.

Here are five questions to ask your herd veterinarian to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of your calf-rearing program:

1. Have we established a valid VCPR?
To correctly diagnose, treat, and prevent disease, dairy farmers must establish a VCPR with a licensed veterinarian of record.

2. Are my treatment protocols for common calf illnesses (i.e. scours, pneumonia, navel/joint infections) up to date and in accordance with current research and guidelines?
The Animal Medical Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) permits veterinarians to prescribe uses of certain animal drugs under certain conditions that are not in accordance with approved label directions.  This type of use by all producers requires a VCPR.

3. Am I recording treatments correctly?
All treatments for all calves should be recorded and saved for two years per the FDA.  This includes treatment date and time, calf ID, reason for treatment, drug, dose, route, meat withdrawal time, and person administering the treatment.

4. Are ill calves identified promptly?
Prompt treatment of calves gives the best chance of a successful outcome.  Chronic cases of illnesses like pneumonia may be an indication of late diagnosis and treatment.

5. What pain management strategy should I implement to dehorn calves? 
A growing body of research supports the use of providing an oral anti-inflammatory medication in addition to a local nerve block to help abate pain and discomfort associated with dehorning both durin and following the procedure.

This area of research is constantly changing and evolving.  Current recommendations may not be the same in a year or two.

In addition to the above questions, consider reviewing vaccination and dehorning protocols with your veterinarian on at least an annual basis. If prescribed treatment protocols for sick calves become ineffective at any point, let your veterinarian know as soon as possible.  It can also be very helpful to discuss calf feeding strategies with both your nutritionist and veterinarian.

As the dairy industry continues to navigate the current milk market and look for ways to be more efficient and cost-conscious, producers have a responsibility and right to scrutinize all aspects of farm management. This includes their calf-raising program.  Keep in mind, open conversations can reveal areas of opportunity to improve the health and management of calves and heifers.  If you are willing to ask the questions, be willing to accept the answers.

This article was originally written for the January 2019 edition of Vita Plus Starting Strong.  Click here for more calf nutrition and management expertise.

About the author:  Dr. Jenn Rowntree is a Vita Plus calf and heifer specialist.  She grew up on her family’s 100-cow registered Holstein dairy farm in Baldwin, Wisconsin.  Rowntree studied dairy science during her undergraduate career as a Food Animal Veterinary Medical Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She went on to earn her doctor of veterinary medicine, with a focus on food animal medicine, at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.  She practiced veterinary medicine in southwest Wisconsin before joining the Vita Plus team in 2018.

Category: Animal health
Calf and heifer nutrition
Colostrum management
Dairy Performance