VET Richard Matthews reminded cattle producers of the importance of herd health planning at a meeting organised by UTASS at Middleton-in- Teesdale auction mart.

All cattle keepers must have a written herd health plan by law, but Mr Matthews urged producers to use their documents more widely, to help with monitoring their animals and to alert them to any disease build-up at an early stage.

The three main priorities for beef herds should be to produce a high number of healthy calves, to maximise the number of kilograms of beef produced for a pre-determined input cost, and to maintain a good standard of herd health with as little veterinary intervention as possible, he said.

“A close look at production records should highlight any problem areas,” said Mr Matthews, of Castle Vets in Barnard Castle. “If a particular set of figures appears unusual, then it may be worth examining in more detail.”

He gave the meeting – organised by Upper Teesdale Agricultural Support Services (UTASS) – one of his Dalesbased farmer clients as an example.

“A local producer asked me for help with putting together a herd health plan. Just a couple of years earlier, his suckler herd had been achieving a fertility rate of 98 per cent for cows put to the bull, which is considered a good target score.

“It had fallen sharply to 85 per cent and he felt the problem warranted further investigation.

“Our first task was to investigate whether Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) was present in the 60-cow herd and blood testing revealed that one nine month old calf and an animal aged 21 months were infected.

They were continually shedding the virus and putting the rest of the herd at risk.”

The plan for bringing the virus under control on the farm included culling the two cattle which tested positive and vaccinating the rest of the herd, including the stock bull.

Any new purchases would come from BVD-accredited herds only and a policy of vaccinating all new cattle coming on to the farm was put in place. Within a couple of years, the fertility rate had returned to its previous level of 98 per cent.