Enhanced soil life aids cow health

3 May 2023

Four of our recent regenerative farming workshops focused on the links between cow and soil health aligning with our First4Milk sustainability commitments of reducing antibiotic use and increasing milk from forage. Rob Howe from LLM Farm Vets explained ways to manage cow health with more testing and less but targeted use of wormers and antibiotics.

Taking a more targeted approach to worm control can reap big rewards for cow and soil health as well as farm finances and biodiversity.

There is potential for large savings in products alone; their reduced use also helping dung beetles thrive and deliver better soil health, worm and fly control.

Large tunneller (Geotrupid) beetle bullet-like holes were found under pats on three farms, demonstrating the water infiltration services and attraction of earthworms into the soil underneath. Ivermectin use negatively impacts this and can reduce grass growth by 18%. We also saw the beneficial parasitic wasp which lays eggs inside nuisance fly larvae.

We have been unaware of the damage done to soil biology through overuse of wormers. It could be the anthelmintics are killing the very organisms able to eat the worm eggs and help overcome a worm problem.

Establishing your herd’s worm burden before treatment may help reduce the number of doses given and prevent the need for a blanket approach. Faecal egg counts allow you to determine where, which or if worms are an issue before treating. This is best done with your vet within a full IPM plan.

Youngstock tend to have a higher worm burden and risk of disease. Testing representative groups of animals can help formulate an effective worming strategy.

Vaccination also has a role to play in preventing some worm conditions, eg. lungworm, although the longevity of vaccinations must be considered. In the case of lungworm, if vaccination is used, the focus can be on gut worms and a faecal egg count can give you confidence in the worm burden you are addressing.

Fluke tests at risk periods like housing also help determine the best approach and avoid wasting treatments from using inappropriately.

Concerns about worm resistance through routine use are valid. Resistance on sheep farms is well documented and becoming more of a problem in cattle particularly to clear wormers.

The aim of a targeted approach is not to ‘ban’ the use of antibiotics and wormers, but for it to be based on evidence from testing rather than assumption. While important to always follow your vet’s protocols, it’s also about challenging the status quo, reviewing what might have become habit and using test results to inform best practice. Before making any changes to the treatment of your animals, discuss fully with your vet.

First Milk members are doing great work to reduce antibiotic use, so where are the further gains? Using bulk milk for additional disease surveillance is a great way to better understand the disease status of your herd and to act on it.

Common infectious diseases such as BVD, Lepto, IBR, Salmonella and fluke can be very costly and often go under the radar. Proactive control prevents a large proportion of antibiotic use and mitigates the investment in vaccines or other control measures developed with your vet’s advice.

Bulk milk testing can be done automatically once set up; many First Milk members already taking advantage of this monitoring with their vets.

Making small changes to controlling parasite burdens and diversifying swards can provide business resilience through more immunologically robust animals and resilient crops. The workshops revealed many forward-thinking solutions already taking place on First Milk farms.

For more information on dung beetles visit www.dungbeetlesforfarmers.co.uk