It’s a good idea that we all work on reducing the bulk milk cell count, because attention to udder health always pays off. For this reason, Royal GD, IVC Evidensia and Zoetis have been working together recently on a training programme for veterinarians. Using a structured approach, we got to work on diagnosing mastitis, and the results were positive.
As every vet knows, the importance of udder health is beyond dispute. However, what do you do if the bulk milk cell count increases, either temporarily or structurally? IVC Evidensia, a group of veterinary practices and Zoetis, a veterinary pharmaceutical company, joined forces with Royal GD, and set up a training programme with the specific aim of answering this question.
The three partners were able to deploy their unique strengths to achieve a common goal; improve udder health. Zoetis relied on its various tools for treatment and advising veterinary practices, IVC Evidensia used its knowledge and experience from veterinary practices and livestock farmers, while GD exploited its knowledge and applied diagnostics, scientific expertise and research into udder health.
During the training programme, vets were given specific practical tools to help them get to work on udder health. This wasn’t because the vets were lacking in knowledge, it was simply to make sure they could use their knowledge as effectively as possible, according to Otlis Sampimon, udder health specialist at Zoetis. “Basically a knowledge upgrade, putting them in an even better position to help farmers lower their bulk milk cell counts.”
The path to reducing the bulk milk cell count
Ten vets from ten different IVC Evidensia practices attended five sessions. During these sessions, they discussed their own findings under the supervision of expert coaches. The goal? To help all 45 participating dairy farmers with a bulk milk cell count above 200,000 cells/ml get this number below 200,000 cells/ml during a 12-month programme.
All the livestock farmers subscribed to the Mastitis Tankmelk milk initiative, which uses bulk milk samples for mastitis diagnostics. That was also an appropriate starting point, says vet Christian Scherpenzeel of GD, who helped coach the vets during the programme. “We used diagnostics in our approach, instead of the more indirect path of bulk milk cell count data. That means we first used Mastitis Tankmelk at herd level to identify the dominant individual and combined mastitis agents on the farm, then refined the findings at an individual level through bacteriological testing. The participants were able to use this information to determine a plan of action with great precision.”
Each vet selected one specific mastitis agent on which they focused in their action plan. If the germ was found in the bulk milk, they elaborated specific, practical changes that the livestock farmer could implement. They presented their findings to each other during the meetings. It was a pleasant way of working, says Jaap Mulder, Clinical Director at IVC Evidensia. “It wasn’t a standard training course where you mainly get information. Vets were given a structure, and shared lots of experiences with each other.”
By using diagnostics as the approach and determining an action plan for each germ, the vets knew exactly what they had to do. Sampimon: “Bulk milk is a good indicator of what’s happening across a farm. You can then refine this with individual bacteriological testing.”
This allows vets to work very specifically. Scherpenzeel: “You learn to see the germs in the context of the farm as a whole. The vets identify the risk factors, and take the time needed to draw up a plan. After all, the bulk milk cell count can’t be reduced by changing just one aspect; it requires a structured, targeted approach.”
The aim was to get the bulk milk cell count at each livestock farm below 200,000 cells/ml. Were they successful? Absolutely, says Sampimon. Ultimately, udder health improved on each and every one of the dairy farms, so a real win-win situation, according to Scherpenzeel. “If a livestock farmer sees that the approach works, they will value the vet’s advice even more.”
Exchange of ideas
The end of the course doesn’t necessary signal the end of further exchanges of ideas. Mulder advises vets to get in touch with each other regularly. “Use the power of a network. You can simply call people, call experts. You have a common interest.” The vets have gained more confidence, and tools for tackling more complex udder health issues, even if a farm is doing well. Mulder says he frequently heard people say: “I’ve got more options for applying farm supervision when it comes to udder health. It’s generally more difficult to get the farmer’s attention for a chat when things are going well, but this has made it easier.”
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