Improving dairy herd health management programs
The animal article of the month for February is ‘Effects of a participatory approach, with systematic impact matrix analysis in herd health planning in organic dairy cattle herds‘
There is a strong focus on animal health and welfare in organic farming, and herd health and production management services are therefore important. It may provide additional challenges to deliver such services in the organic setting, because veterinarians and other advisors are not always aware of regulations and other specific conditions that apply. The EU-funded project IMPRO (Impact matrix analysis to improve animal health and welfare in organic dairy farming, http://www.impro-dairy.eu/ ) was initiated to overcome some of the obstacles. One part of the project was to develop a tailored herd health planning approach, targeted to the specific situation of individual farms and using a structured participatory approach, acknowledging the shortcomings of “one size fits all” solutions.
The current paper briefly describes the herd health planning approach, where the use of an impact matrix to identify areas with possibilities for change and associated potential effects was a central component. Another central component was that it involved the farmer, the herd veterinarian and an advisor discussing together on the farm, with the researcher only serving as a facilitator. The paper also describes how the planning approach was implemented in 122 organic dairy farms in France, Germany and Sweden.
The number of actions in the herd health plans differed between the three countries. In France there were few actions in each plan, as compared to Sweden and Germany. In all countries, the actions were implemented to a relatively high degree, probably because the planning involved all relevant actors and resulted in a choice of actions that were in line with the farmer’s own preferences. However, we were unable to document improvements in animal health during the course of the project, probably due to the short time to follow-up and because we did not have the resources for a continuous monitoring of the farms. The herd health planning approach was, however, highly appreciated by both farmers, veterinarians and advisors and further development work to make it even more farm-centric would be useful.
It is important to realize that, although the project targeted organic dairy farming, the farm-centric approach with an impact matrix would be equally valid and valuable also for conventional dairy farming as well as for other agricultural businesses.
This article is freely available for one month: ‘Effects of a participatory approach, with systematic impact matrix analysis in herd health planning in organic dairy cattle herds‘
Author: K. Sjöström et al.
1- Swedish dairy calves (Photo: Jannie Hagman, SLU)
2- Impact Matrix meeting (Photo: Karin Sjöström, SLU)