APHA Animal Health and Welfare Pathway – £££ For Your Farm!

The APHA Animal Health and Welfare Pathway is a government fund that has been running for a year now and is designed to pay for a vet to visit your farm to carry out a health and welfare review. This review is for any beef, sheep, pig or dairy farm so long as you meet the minimum stocking requirements;

  • 11 or more beef cattle
  • 21 or more sheep
  • 51 or more pigs, or
  • 11 or more dairy cattle

You can claim for more than one veterinary review, but it has to be at least 10 months after the first one. The funding for this will be available every year for 3 years. You must have an SBI number linked to a CPH number.

Once you have applied and received an “agreement number”, contact us and we can come out to do your review. It can be any type of review within reason, based on what is most useful to you! Recent examples include: disease investigations (such as the prevalence of Neospora in your breeding cows), fertility assessment in sucklers or investigating a pneumonia problem in youngstock. It can be used for trace element testing in cattle herds/sheep flocks, bull or ram breeding examinations, nutrition assessment or worming and fluke assessment and control – investigating wormer resistance for example. We have also used the funding for staff training where issues on farm have occurred – for example towards AI training, or our lambing/calving courses. It really has helped start individual discussions on what actually will help each farm.

There is one stipulation from APHA, involving some testing of animals. For beef animals, 5 youngstock over 10 months of age have to be tested for BVD antibodies. For sheep, it is faecal worm egg counts in 10 lambs less than a year old. For pigs, 30 have to be tested for PRRS. Dairy cattle can be tested either through bulk milk BVD antigen, or the 5 youngstock bloods for BVD antibodies.
Once the agreement number has been given to the farmer, the farmer has 6 months to carry out the testing and submit our review. Once the review is submitted the money goes directly to the farmer.
Please give us a ring, as we can help talk you through this funding and ensure you benefit from it.

Want to read more? Click HERE

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Written by: Jenny Clayton, Veterinary Surgeon

News From Our Rounds- April

North-Tom Warboys

APHA recently made an announcement about tick activity. Ticks have been found on animals throughout the winter months, and recent warmer weather means they will be active earlier than expected. Tick-borne fever and Red Water are two diseases to watch out for as we start to turn out livestock. Symptoms for Tick-borne fever include dullness, loss of appetite and, as you would expect, a high temperature. Red water symptoms include a high temperature, diarrhoea then constipation and characteristic dark red urine.
If you know your farm sees these or other tick-borne diseases, it may be worth ensuring you have the medicines needed to treat a case. Also, consider using a topical external parasite treatment earlier than usual. Remember, though, that responsible medicines use is key and that avoiding tick areas on farm and vaccination is preferable to needing treatments – this will also avoid the production losses associated with sickness. Here’s hoping the ground dries out soon and turnout can go ahead…

East-Claire Rudd

We have had a few clients enquire about compulsory post-movement TB testing recently. Cattle moving from higher incidence and 6 monthly testing areas of England and from Wales into the annual surveillance areas of the Edge Area require post movement TB testing 60-120 days after their arrival. This is the case even if the animal originates from a herd on annual testing and in addition to the usual pre-movement test. Our east area extends into Hampshire, part of which lies within this annual testing Edge area. The easiest way to ascertain whether post-movement testing is required for your holding is to use the online search tool http://apha.defra.gov.uk/tb-test/index.asp and input the first 2 parts of your holding number.
As I write this, calving and lambing season is upon us. With all calvings / lambings, if intervention is required, the quicker that decision is made the far better the prognosis for both dam and offspring – if there is any question over whether the calf / lamb can be born naturally, then please call asap. Unfortunately we have seen a number of cases of deformed foetuses due to Schmallenberg infection. These often require delivery by caesarean section; the sooner the op is started (and the fewer people who have had their hand in prior to beginning!), the greater the chance of survival for the dam.

West-Nicky Ogden

It’s good to be back at work (for a rest..?!) after maternity leave, and I have been enjoying driving round the local countryside and catching up with farmers that I’ve not seen for a while. Glimpses of spring are starting to appear, but you may have to look beyond the puddles to see them. Hot topics on sheepy farm rounds appear to be scanning figures, ewe ration and faecal egg counting in the run up to lambing. For those with disappointing scanning results or ewes which failed to lamb, there are tests (and funding) available to see if we can establish a cause, so please do get in touch. Be sure to know what the worms are doing inside your ewes by faecal egg counting 2-3 weeks pre-lambing. Worming decisions made now can really set the stage ready for the rest of the season. Checking which wormers are effective in your flock is a conversation that I’m having a lot and is a fantastic positive step to ensuring the future of your sheep business. Why not use the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway funding to test a few and see what’s working for your flock?

Central-Emily Gasgoigne

Record lamb prices as I write this, certainly bring a cheer amongst the wet days. It’s been a busy few weeks on my travels with a focus on preparing diets, performance reviews and training courses. Some of the diets were really tricky with hay or low quality haylage being used – food for thought for the upcoming mowing season, how can we maximise energy and protein of our forage and minimise concentrates? “Pathway” Visits (AHWP) have proved really useful and have been used for all sorts – health planning, feeding plans, parasite management plans. Some of you may be eligible to re-apply if 10 months has passed. As many of you are stuck into the throws of lambing – the autumn lambers are gearing up for tupping – the cycle doesn’t stop – teamsheep are here to help!

Lympstone-Raechel Parker

I’ve had a brilliant 9 months (albeit very wet!) returning to my Devonian roots. It’s been so great to catch up with you all again, meet lots of new faces and be part of the very exciting transition to Synergy!
Thank you all for putting up with my new kiwi habits, including the alarming scanning wand! Sadly it’s not entirely magic and we have encountered a range of scanning results, prompting a number of bull fertility tests, with sadly some bulls exiting the farm. I would encourage everyone to consider fertility testing bulls ahead of the game to prevent these losses in reproductive performance, especially when single sire mating.
Now onto the next adventure: Europe by dirt bike! I wish everyone a productive season ahead and no doubt I’ll bump into many of you when I’m next back in the shire. All the best!


Freeze Branding

I wanted to share a few thoughts on the Freeze branding process and how to get the best results. We have been very busy lately branding heifers pre- turnout. Here are some key facts which help explain the method we use to provide permanent ID on cattle.
Freeze branding uses copper alloy irons chilled in a solution of dry ice (frozen C0²) and an alcohol solution of Isopropanol (methylated spirits). On darker haired cattle application of these chilled irons alters the pigmentation of the underlying hair follicles (turning black/coloured hair white). Freeze branding was first developed in 1966 by Washington State University and has predominantly replaced the use of hot branding. Studies from the USA provide clear evidence that in comparison to hot iron branding, freeze branding causes less of a stress response in cattle (smaller increase in heart rate and fewer circulating stress hormones). This must mean that the cattle experience a lower level of pain.
The cattle are clipped in the desired area and brushed with isopropanol which creates good contact with the skin. The irons are chilled to -78°C in the dry ice solution (which takes about 20 minutes), and then placed onto the area to be branded, held in place with slight pressure. Darker cattle require about 30 seconds of contact time, with around one minute for lighter coated animals. A healing period follows the branding, with scabs forming over the branded area. This process is completed within around 3 months by which time the cattle are permanently identifiable.
It is really important that the cattle are adequately restrained – no sideways movement or jumping around! Heifers can be lively so plenty of help and a decent crush are essential. A squeeze crush can be really useful, or alternatively one that is “narrowed” using a tyre or pallet to avoid sideways movement. Failure to adequately restrain the animals results in a poor quality brand that may be unreadable! We need to organise sufficient dry ice for large sessions, so please help us by booking in good time, ideally with a few weeks notice.

Written By James Perrett, Vet Tech

Why Calving At Two Is Best For Beef

Calving beef cows at 2 years old is an effective strategy for maximising herd efficiency and reproductive performance, and reducing costs. Yet only 1/3 of cows nationally calve at this age. To manage this effectively, the critical factors to consider are:

  • Calf health and growth pre-weaning
  • Growth rates from weaning to first calving
  • Nutrition and management after the first calving

Puberty in heifers is initiated by their growth, especially the levels of leptin – a growth hormone released by fat. Therefore, nutrition of growing heifers is critical to ensure that they reach the target weight and frame size ready for bulling. To calve at 2 years old, heifers should be mated at 15 months. They are most fertile from their 3rd cycle, so need to reach puberty by 12 months. Around 65% of heifers reach this target, so there is plenty of room for improvement.
Any calfhood diseases are likely to reduce growth rates, either directly though reduced intakes, or indirectly through damage to the gut (from scours) or diverting energy to fight infection.

Synergy Farm Health Pelvis
Synergy Farm Health: Demo of a Beef Heifer Pelvis at 24 months old

How Can We Help?

  • Calf health records – treatments, growth rates, deaths, – can help determine if your calves are getting the healthy start they need to reach their optimal performance
  • Heifer scoring – we can score both their pelvic size (to ensure they have the capacity to calve safely) and their uterus and ovaries (to determine if they have hit puberty)
  • Synchronisation & AI – having heifers calve at the beginning of the season gives them more recovery time before re-breeding, and have heavier calves at weaning. There is also opportunity to tailor the sire to the individual heifer as well as the needs of the herd

Please speak to one of our vets if you are interested in developing your heifer management further.

Written By Vikki Wyse, Veterinary Surgeon

Care For The “Downer Cow”

Downer cows are a common issue on a dairy farm. Without suitable care and attention, they can fast become a serious welfare concern. It is important that we improve cow comfort whilst under treatment, and increase chance of recovery.
There are many conditions that could cause a cow to be down. These include

  • Metabolic e.g. milk fever, ketosis, staggers
  • Toxic e.g. metritis, mastitis
  • Traumatic e.g. fractures, hip dislocation, nerve paralysis

If you are not sure of the cause, please call us. We can do a clinical examination and may take samples to reach a diagnosis. Then specific treatment can be started, or in some cases euthanasia may be appropriate on animal welfare grounds.

Cows are very poorly suited for lying down for long periods – in as little as 2-4 hours, especially on a hard surface such as concrete, they will start to develop ‘downer cow syndrome’. Hind limb muscles are compressed by their own bodyweight, reducing blood flow, which leads to pain and swelling. This may lead to secondary nerve damage. Further complications may include mastitis and injuries due to struggling.
The quality of nursing care a downer cow receives will directly influence the chance of success.

The essentials of nursing are:

  • A clean soft bed – such as deep straw or sand, or a dry paddock.
  • Good quality feed and fresh water must always be available. If the cow isn’t drinking on her own then she will need to be stomach tubed and pumped with fluids.
  • If possible, the cow should be encouraged to stand every 6 hours. As a minimum, the legs should be manipulated regularly to stimulate blood flow, and the cow should be turned onto the opposite side.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Metacam should be given.
  • Lactating dairy cows should be milked and checked for mastitis regularly.

Lifting and moving
Lifting the cow can assist them to stand, help prevent pressure-related injuries, and allows more thorough examination; however this must be done with great care as inappropriate lifting may cause further harm. A hip hoist is a useful tool if certain rules are adhered to.
Use of hip hoists should always be supervised by a trained and experienced operator.

  • Cows with injury such as broken leg or dislocated hip should not be lifted.
  • Lift over a soft surface if possible.
  • Consider using a wide strap behind the front legs to support the front end of the cow.
  • Lift the cow slowly into a normal weight-bearing position – not up into the air.
  • Cows should NEVER be moved using a hip hoist.
    We strongly recommend that any member of staff involved with lifting or moving of downer cows receives suitable training, please contact us for further information.

Written By Bella Lowis, Veterinary Surgeon

April Newsletter 2024

Featuring the care needed to treat a ‘Down Cow’ on your farm, why calving at two is ‘Best for Beef’ and a reminder from our Vet Tech team to book in your Freeze-branding requirement.

How Can Friendly Flies – Parasitic Wasps – Help With On Farm Fly Control?

New solution to fly control
Flies are a problem for all of us – Summer mastitis, eye infections, drops in milk yields and growth rates. On top of this, they are a continuous irritation to you and your staff working on farm. Despite our best efforts, flies continue to be a challenge on many farms.

Many of us are already using chemical control – both in the environment and directly on the animals. These go a long way in controlling flies but they still have their limitations… product costs, labour costs of application (and reapplication!), and safety considerations for you and your team. Furthermore, we must consider the sustainability of such chemical use.

Is there another, safer, easier, and more sustainable alternative? Yes! Parasitic Wasps.

What are Parasitic Wasps?
Parasitic Wasps are tiny – closer in size to a midge than a nuisance fly! Despite being a wasp, they don’t actually sting. The way Parasitic Wasps kill nuisance flies is amazing! The adults fly around (unnoticed by you and your animals as they are so small) and lay eggs in nuisance fly pupae around the environment. The wasp eggs hatch in the fly pupae, eat the fly larvae (killing them!), before hatching out to fly around and lay more eggs in more nuisance fly pupae. This way the nuisance flies never even hatch out! Problem solved. Bear in mind 80% of nuisance flies on your farm are in pupae/maggot form, so it makes sense to kill them at this stage rather than waiting for them to hatch out and fly around creating problems for your animals and staff. Stop the problem before it even starts.

How do I use Parasitic Wasps?
The secret to their success is starting before the nuisance flies hatch, and then spreading new Parasitic Wasps every 2 weeks throughout the fly season.

To make it easier for you, Synergy is offering a subscription service, providing continuous 2-weekly delivery of Parasitic Wasps to your farm throughout the season. All you need to remember to do is order before March and scatter them every time they are delivered to your farm!

Parasitic Wasps arrive in a bag in pupae form (they just look like grains of brown rice!). They need to be spread in breeding grounds of nuisance flies every 2 weeks – these being areas of undisturbed muck (like the crusty edges of slurry lagoons, edges of dung heaps, or edges/corners of straw sheds). Parasitic Wasps can work on any size of farm. The amount you need depends on the fly populations but a good ball park is one bag per 25 head of cattle.

For best results take a walk round your farm with your vet to discuss how many bags you will need delivering and where best to spread them to have maximum impact. Review this throughout the season, adjusting where you spread based on the presence or absence of nuisance flies.

Can I use Parasitic Wasps alongside existing chemical methods?
Yes (and no…). Parasitic Wasps can still be used alongside topical chemical control on your animals. In fact, we strongly recommend it as they complement each other well (parasitic wasps killing the flies in pupae form, and topical chemical control killing those that in adult flying form).

BUT… take care when using environmental chemical control as some methods (i.e. the chemicals you spray into the environment/on the bedding) will kill the Parasitic Wasps as well as the nuisance flies! The good news is the parasitic wasps can only really fly about 50-100m (less if there is a breeze!) so depending on the size of your farm and where you spread the wasps, you can use a combination of different approaches around your farm. Don’t worry, you don’t need to throw away your fly tape in the parlour!

How do I sign up?
It’s really easy. Call our dispensary on 01935 83682 and ask about Parasitic Wasps. They will put you in touch with one of our fly specialists who will call you or can arrange to come out to your farm to discuss how many bags of friendly flies you need and how best to spread them. Sometimes as little as one bag is needed.

We advise that orders should be in by the end of March in order that we can start getting Parasitic Wasps out to farm before the nuisance flies emerge! If you miss the deadline, don’t worry. Call us and we can discuss how to implement parasitic wasps on your farm. We now also offer supplementary fly control products including fly traps

Pete O’Malley MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and Sam Battershell, Veterinary Technician

You can read more information in the following Farmers Weekly article.

News From Our Rounds-Spring Bumper 2024

North – Tom Angel

After a busy winter and what seemed like a particularly bad one for calf pneumonia, it’s nice to see the first signs of spring emerging as we head towards turnout. This is a good opportunity to be proactive with regards to lungworm prevention for first season grazers. Vaccination with Huskvac prior to turnout allows for natural exposure during grazing and stimulates a long-lasting immunity. Animals can be vaccinated from 8 weeks of age and require two doses of Huskvac, 4 weeks apart. Onset of immunity occurs two weeks after the second dose so it’s important this time has elapsed before exposing animals to potentially at-risk pasture. This approach is much more favourable than regular worming with regards to reducing wormer usage and allowing animals to develop their own immunity and not leaving them vulnerable further down the line.

East – Josh Swain

So far the New Year has not delivered many bright or dry days and I had to get out and perform the ‘welly test’ numerous times to check if my van would get through the flooded roads. We have had pneumonia outbreaks in the East region (to both the cattle and human populations!). Some interesting recent calf post-mortem and respiratory swab findings have found bacterial opportunistic pathogens such as Mannheimia and Pasteurella in the absence of pneumonia viruses such as RSV and PI3. Normally, these viruses are the first to infect the respiratory tract and then lead to secondary colonization by the bacteria. However,
bacterial infection alone can occur when host defences in the lungs are compromised by stressors such as poor weather. Prompt detection of cases, good calf housing management and vaccination can all help mitigate the risks of challenging weather conditions.

West – Jenny Clayton

Pneumonia is causing problems in calves of all ages and although many are vaccinated the environmental challenge some calves are facing is huge. When they are over stocked or living in under or over ventilated sheds they can succumb to the disease. High temperatures, mouth breathing and raspy lungs are all too familiar. It can be depressing and certainly takes a lot of time to treat, both with antibiotics, and anti inflammatory supportive care plus finding space for them when they need to be separated from the others. Simple solutions, including opening up sides of sheds or preventing drafts, can make such a difference and although obvious to a new fresh set of eyes may not be so obvious when working in the same shed for years! I opened a window on one shed after doing a smoke bomb test and it just provided enough fresh air into the shed to force the air up and away from the calves. This meant they were not rebreathing in the same air. Now is the time for smoke bombing, whilst sheds are full, and we can then see how each shed performs.

Central – Katharine Benjamin

Most of you will be gearing up for calving and lambing season, and many of you will be in the swing of it already. We have been busy across the practice due to a resurgence in cases of Schmallenberg this year, with an increase in difficult calvings and lambings displaying the typical bent limbs and fixed joints seen after infection with the virus. We have had these confirmed as SBV on brain or blood samples in multiple cases. The virus is spread by midges and the warm Autumn and early Winter we had last year will have extended the active midge period, allowing for infection of dams during the critical stage of gestation. If you are concerned about cases on your farm there is funding available for surveillance testing of foetal brain stem or blood sampling of dams. If you find yourself struggling we are available 24/7 to help.

Lympstone – Lorna Pillar

It’s been one month as Synergy Farm Health Lympstone and we’ve hit the ground running as we enter our busy period for lambings and calvings. The relentless wet weather has brought its own challenges and I’ve had to get used to driving a van! With the poor weather we have seen higher than usual levels of pneumonia issues with calves. Although the weather certainly makes things harder, there are lots of ways that we can help tackle calf pneumonia including diagnostic testing, tailored vaccination protocols and advice on calf housing and ventilation. Please make sure you speak to your vet if you are experiencing any problems with pneumonia in calves.
The saturated ground means we are also seeing an increase in sheep lameness cases. Muddy areas around gateways, feeders etc. can result in the sheep’s normal defences against infectious lameness being compromised. Here at Synergy we can help advise on good preventative lameness care and foot management to help reduce the level of lameness and antibiotic usage on farm.

Beef News

Youngstock Health Review

I can understand feeling that there’s enough happening this time of year, without being asked to do any number crunching. But wherever you are in relation to the calving period, looking at the records you have so far can be extremely useful. Basic data such as calvings, abortions, stillbirths, calf mortality in younger and older animals and barreners can give you a good idea of any challenges the herd is facing and guide you to solutions.
Abortions and stillbirths
There are many causes of abortion and rarely is it “one of those things”. Some infections will cause repeated abortions in the same animal and a diagnosis can aid culling decisions. Others have implications for the herd, perhaps a sign of infectious disease, contaminated forage etc.
Stillbirths are more likely to be incidental, but there are still risk factors such as thin or fat cows or large calves, that result in prolonged calvings. We can help you identify the underlying cause, as these factors can all be managed successfully to give you an extra calf or two to sell next year. Sometimes a less obvious cause, such as trace element deficiencies, can be causing weak calves (this is especially a sign of iodine deficiency).

Calf mortality 0-48hrs
Sometimes, these issues result in a live calf that just doesn’t get going. This can lead to poor colostrum transfer (or none at all), inadequate nutrition and increased risk of disease: E. coli, which causes scours in the first week or sometimes septicaemia and meningitis, is a big killer.
Lots of deaths in this early stage should prompt reflection on the risks discussed already, but also the hygiene around calving, feeding dams to improve colostrum quality or perhaps supplementing weaker calves with extra colostrum. During the “Beast from the East” in 2018, I saw a lot of E. coli deaths in calves that were born inside when the farm was used to outdoor calving, and therefore had overstocked or dirty yards that couldn’t be easily cleaned- hygiene and colostrum are always the keys with early mortality!

Calf mortality 48hrs – weaning
Weaning may seem a long way off at the moment, so this is just a reminder to keep recording any disease (scours, pneumonia, joint ill, navel ill etc.) and the ages at which it occurs – this is really valuable information to use later. Mortality after 48hrs should be absolutely minimal.
This is also the time to start recording weights. Suckler calves should be gaining nearly a kilo a day – anything less could be an opportunity to adjust management and operate with greater efficiency. Another target to aim for this year could be: calves at 200 days old weighing half their dam’s weight (or more!). This is an indicator that the dam is doing her job well, as well as excellent calf health and nutrition.

If you have lost too many calves this calving season or have suffered disease outbreaks, reviewing the basic herd performance figures, combined with a more in-depth investigation with your vet, will identify any common themes that can be addressed before next season. The AHWP or Synergy’s suckler health advisory package may be the way you do this. Remember, at current market prices, one or two extra calves reaching sale will pay for your time, further detective work and allow you to proactively stop the issue happening next year.

Written by: Tom Warboys, Veterinary Surgeon

Notes From The Farm 

It’s been a busy few months. We’ve survived our biannual TB ordeal (sorry, test), had a RPA audit, somehow got to the other side of the wettest end of year for a long time – 35 inches of rain in the last 6 months of 2023 (over 9 inches of that in December) and had a good cold snap in January to break up the monotonous precipitation among other things. I’m sure I’m not alone in slightly dreading winter: the lack of daylight hours is the thing that gets to me most, although the cold and damp also seems to penetrate more these days!
Health wise, we had a nasty pneumonia outbreak in the Autumn calves in January. We know the shed is not ideal and this was definitely the year that we didn’t get away with it.

I’m planning to use the AHWP (Animal Health and Welfare Pathway) money to test last year’s calves for RSV, PI3, IBR and BVD to see what bugs they were in contact with to give us an idea if vaccination is the path to follow. More importantly, we need to work out a plan for the shed: unfortunately, there’s a high chance that the roof has asbestos in it so we can’t realistically increase outflow quickly, safely or cheaply. A fan and tube are likely to be the most cost-effective solution to increasing airflow.
I’m keen to stop Autumn calving due to the associated health issues – as well as pneumonia in the calves, the heifers don’t enjoy being housed with the cows due to bullying and the bulls and a few cows always seem to get lame at some point over the service period as they don’t like the concrete. However, the numbers man (my husband!) wants to keep with the 2 blocks to get a more even cash flow through the year…
Talking of numbers, this is the year that I’m going to try to work out the carbon footprint of the farm. I’m fed up with being told in the media how bad beef is for the environment when we are putting so much back in terms of biodiversity (a pair of Cirl Buntings were seen here last week) and carbon capture with grassland etc.

Written by: Clare Eames, Veterinary Surgeon

Spring Vaccinations

With turnout and, in most cases, calving followed by the subsequent bulling period just around the corner (hopefully!), now might be an ideal time to sit down and review vaccination strategies for the coming year.

If you vaccinate your cows to boost the level of colostral antibodies against E coli, Rotavirus and Coronavirus this should be done a month before calving is due to start so that the maximum number of cows are within the optimum time window for the vaccine to have its best effect – ideally it should be given between one and three months before the cow calves. Vaccinating your cows is a highly effective way of keeping neonatal calf scour to a minimum but, of course, it will only work if calf colostrum intake is ensured soon after birth (although the protective effect of antibodies in the calf’s gut will continue to be beneficial for some weeks). Remember, even if colostrum intakes are good, if the challenge to the young calf is overwhelming then immunity will be swamped and disease will still be seen. Hygiene in calving sheds, yards and paddocks, therefore, remains critical.

The ideal time for lepto vaccination is just before turnout. During the winter when cows are housed and fed silage, urinary pH tends to be acidic which limits the excretion of bacteria from carrier cows. After turnout, with the cows on a diet of fresh grass, urine pH rises towards normal which will result in the excretion of more bacteria. It makes sense, therefore, to vaccinate, just before turnout so that immunity is maximal at the time of maximal challenge and excretion is reduced.

BVD vaccination is aimed at protecting the foetus rather than the cow. Booster vaccination should be completed a month before the bulls are introduced to the cows. Where Bovela is used, heifers and cows only require a single dose of vaccine, again at least a month before they are served for the first time, followed by annual boosters. If your policy is to use Bovilis BVD then heifers will require two doses of vaccine a month apart, with the second dose being given a month before serving begins. Then the data sheet requires booster vaccination every six months. If you are uncertain of your herd’s BVD status, AHWP funding to carry out an antibody screen of half a dozen home-bred, unvaccinated, weaned calves would be a good starting point to assess it.

Clostridial disease, in its many guises, remains, alongside staggers, the most common cause of the sporadic loss of grazing cattle each year. Excellent vaccines are available to protect against these losses and are widely used in the sheep industry. Penetration into the suckler cow market is much less, despite the very reasonable cost and the much greater value of a suckler cow over a sheep. Preventing the loss of only one cow from clostridial disease every five years would, in a 100-cow herd, more than pay for the cost of the vaccine required to protect your herd. Again, the ideal time to vaccinate is just before turnout so that immunity is maximal during the grazing season.
If you would like to discuss infectious disease management in your herd and vaccination strategies please do not hesitate to speak with the vet of your choice.

Written by: Keith Cutler, Veterinary Surgeon

Bull Breeding Soundness – A Quick Q and A…

What does it involve?
A bull breeding soundness examination involves a vet visit to assess a bull’s ability to achieve successful pregnancies. The vet will briefly assess the general health of the bull, paying particular attention to the eyes and feet, followed by a detailed physical examination of the testes, sheath and if possible, the penis. An internal examination of the accessory sex glands is achieved via rectal examination. Finally, an electric probe placed in the rectum is used to obtain a semen sample. This sample is examined immediately under the microscope to assess the progressive motility of the sperm. Air dried slides are also prepared for examination back at the laboratory, to look for any abnormalities in sperm morphology which may affect fertility. Libido, the ability to mount a cow and the ability to achieve intromission are not assessed.

Why test?
Poor or subfertile bulls are one of the most common causes of high barren rates in a suckler herd. Carrying out a BBSE prior to the mating period is the best way to identify bulls that may not be up to the job.

What information will I get?
You will receive a full report of the testing and the assessments carried out.
If a bull requires a certificate pre-sale, you will be notified if the bull has passed or failed and issued with a veterinary certificate accordingly.
If you are a commercial farmer more interested in which bulls are infertile, sub-fertile or very fertile, and who will use this information for management purposes and to make culling decisions, your vet can give you a thorough breakdown of the fertility of the bulls tested to aid these decisions. For example: which bull might be best for a single sired group, which may need some back up and which to cull.

Is the test uncomfortable for the bull?
The majority of the examination is not in any way uncomfortable for the bull. All bulls react differently to the electroejaculator and some will experience mild discomfort for a minute or so during the process. Please note however that if a bull has a more exaggerated reaction to the electroejaculator, the vet will immediately terminate the procedure.

Does the test need to be repeated?
Sometimes the vet might recommend a repeat examination. This might be if a problem has been identified and can be treated during the first examination – for example a foot issue. Another reason to repeat might be if the bull failed to produce a semen sample on first attempt or produced a contaminated sample. A repeat examination will usually be recommended after 2-3 weeks.

What equipment will I need to provide and how long does it take?
Your vet will need the bull to be restrained in a substantial crush with low access points along at least one side. The vet will also require an electricity supply and a sheltered area close to the crush with a table or bales, on which to set up the microscope.
Once the equipment is set up it can take 10-15 minutes per bull to carry out the test on farm, depending on the set up of the crush etc.

What is the cost?
Due to the time taken to set up the testing equipment, the first bull tested is charged at a higher rate than any subsequent bulls tested at the same session. 1st bull examination is £179.50 ex vat, subsequent bulls £102.60 ex vat.
Please contact your vet to discuss having your bulls tested. We would recommend they are tested 4-6 weeks pre-mating. This leaves time to source replacements if any problems are discovered.

Written by: Louise Silk, Veterinary Surgeon

Pre-Breeding Female Focus

Cow nutrition – energy and protein
We know that nutrition of the cow (and heifer) in the run up to, and around calving is absolutely critical to the future fertility of the cow.
A cow in poor body condition at calving and/or in a negative energy balance in the last month before calving will need to draw on body reserves during the period of very high energy demand that follows i.e. lactation. She will prioritise milk production and consequently fertility will suffer – due to poor egg quality and development, delayed ovulation, reduced hormone production and negative effects on the uterine environment, reducing the chance of embryo implantation. She is also more likely to suffer from post-partum problems such as retained cleansing or post -partum uterine infection. The consequence of this is longer to return to cyclicity and less likely to hold to service.
Conversely, over-conditioning can result in fat accumulation within the liver which impairs liver function, reducing the production and metabolism of critical hormones required for reproduction, resulting in a negative effect on ovarian follicular activity.
I know that many of you have worked with myself and other vets over the last few months with the aim of optimising cow nutrition in the run up to calving. This has included checking cow body condition, analysing a small number of blood samples taken pre-calving for energy and protein status (metabolic profiling), analysing forage and discussing diets. This will pay dividends when it comes to getting your cows back in calf later in the spring.

Cow nutrition – trace elements and minerals
Trace elements can also play an important role in fertility. Deficiencies in selenium and copper can result in higher barren rates. If you are concerned this may be an issue for your herd, please discuss this with your vet ASAP.
Magnesium deficiency is a problem we commonly see in beef cows as we move into spring. Lush spring grass passes rapidly through the gut with minimal time for magnesium to be absorbed into the body. Magnesium must be ingested daily to meet the cow’s metabolic demands, which increase significantly as lactation gets going. Magnesium can be supplemented via boluses or in drinking water, or (less effectively) in high-mag licks.

Pre-breeding vet checks
Finally, it is possible you may have encountered the odd difficult calving that has resulted in farmer or vet intervention and possibly placental retention. Whilst this is rarely a major problem in the short term, uterine infections can develop into a chronic problem– you may know this as ‘whites’. The presence of pus inhibits the action of various hormones involved in the return to cyclicity and can result in infertility. We would strongly recommend that any cows with assisted calvings or retained placentae are checked a few weeks before the bull goes in, to ensure they have not developed a chronic, low grade uterine infection, which can be easily treated.

Pre-breeding is often the time when vaccinations are due – BVD vaccine, for example, should be administered at least 3 weeks before mating to maximise protection of the foetus from the effects of the virus. Now is the time to check your health plan vaccination protocols and discuss any queries with your vet.
And not forgetting the new replacements….
It is important that in all the excitement of calving we do not take our eye off the ball when it comes to the future of the herd. The heifers, be they bought in or homebred, should be a priority when it comes to nutrition in the run up to breeding. Heifers should be regularly monitored and ideally weighed in the months and weeks pre-breeding to check growth rates and body condition.
Onset of puberty is directly linked to body weight and fat deposition. Whilst we do not want heifers over fat (fat can deposit in the udder and reduce lactation yields), in order to have good fertility at 15 months old (to calve at 2 years), heifers must be well grown and in good condition. Your vet can check a group of heifers internally to identify animals that are sexually mature. This can also help to weed out any freemartins or ‘non breeders’ before they go to the bull. This can be particularly valuable if you are investing in a synch AI programme.
Consider also that first calved heifers can take longer to return to cyclicity and can therefore struggle to get back in calf the following year. This effect can be mitigated by putting heifers to the bull one month prior to the main herd, thus giving them an extra month to recover from calving before they go to the bull for the second time.

Written by: Louise Silk

Tom Woolacott

Tom Woolacott BVetMed PGDipVCP MRCVS

Tom graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2020 and joined Synergy full time after completing the RVC/Synergy Farm Health internship. Tom is interested in all aspects of farm animal practice and is Somerset born and bred therefore enjoys working in an area ge knows and loves.


Imogen Rogers BVetMed PGDip MRCVS

Imogen graduated in 2019, and then completed the well established RVC/Synergy Farm Health internship. Imogen has a particular interest in sheep medicine, smallholder education and youngstock.

Louise Silk

Louise Silk MA VetMB MRCVS

Louise graduated in 2007 and has spent her whole career working in farm animal practice in Dorset and Wiltshire. Louise has a particular interest in flock health and suckler herd production. Louise enjoys delivering farmer training as well as facilitating discussion group meetings, particularly for the suckler herds of Salisbury plain.


Graeme McPherson BVSc DBR MRCVS

Graeme graduated in 1994 and worked in his native Australia before moving to the UK as a farm animal vet, first in Oxfordshire and now at Synergy Farm Health. Graeme is a qualified AHDB mastitis control plan deliverer and completed his Diploma in Bovine Reproduction in 2020. Graeme has varied clinical interests relating to dairy herd health and productivity, as well as considerable experience in camelid medicine.  Graeme is the North Regional Lead vet and a shareholder in the practice. 


Rachel Hayton BSc (Vet Sci) BVM&S Cert CHP MRCVS

Advanced Practitioner in Cattle Health and Production

Rachel graduated in 1993 and obtained her Certificate in Cattle Health and Production in 1998.  Rachel joined Southfield Veterinary Centre in 1995 which became Synergy Farm Health in 2009.   Rachel focuses on performing routine fertility visits for dairy clients, looking after all aspects of herd health.  Rachel is also one of Synergy’s lead mastitis vets, enjoying carrying out mastitis investigations into challenging situations on farm.  She is a trained AHDB Mastitis Control Plan deliverer.  Rachel became a shareholder in the practice in 2018.


Alastair Hayton BVMS DCHP MRCVS

RCVS Recognised Specialist in Cattle Health and Production


Alastair qualified in 1993 and has worked in farm animal practice in the south west throughout his career.  Alastair gained the RCVS Diploma in Cattle Health and Production in 2003 and became an RCVS specialist in 2011. He is a member of the Nottingham University Dairy Herd Health Group and in 2015 was voted Farmers Weekly Farm Advisor of the Year.  Alastair’s areas of particular interest include nutrition, mastitis, camelid medicine and organic dairy production. Alastair performs a large amount of consultancy work throughout the veterinary and food production sectors, including expert witness legal work.  Alastair is the veterinary consultant to one of the UK’s largest supermarket milk pools. 
Alastair is heavily involved in the research and development of the novel Enferplex bTB test through Surefarm Ltd.

Charlotte Debbaut DVM MRCVS

Charlotte qualified in 2012 in her native Belgium and has spent most of her career working in various farm animal practices across the UK. Charlotte joined Synergy Farm Health in 2020. She is especially interested in dairy cow medicine, including youngstock health and productivity. Charlotte is also a CowSignals Master trainer.


Tom Angel BVetMed MRCVS

Tom graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2019 and joined Synergy full time after completing the RVC/Synergy Farm Health internship. In 2022, Tom started studying for the European Diploma in Bovine Health Management and a Masters of Veterinary Medicine in association with the RVC, where his time is split between clinical work, research, and teaching undergraduate students. Tom is interested in all aspects of farm animal practice, but his particular areas of interest and research are in dairy transition management and calf health. 


Ed Powell-Jackson MA VetMB MRCVS

Ed qualified in 2006 and has spent his whole career working in farm animal practice at Synergy Farm Health, and prior to that at Kingfisher Veterinary Practice. Ed is interested in all aspects of bovine health, in particular infectious disease control and robotic dairy units, and provides veterinary care to some of the highest performing robotic dairy herds in the UK.  Ed runs Synergy’s discussion group for dairy farmers on the Blackdown Hills and is also a qualified AHDB mastitis control plan deliverer.  Ed became a shareholder in the practice in 2013.  In addition to his clinical work Ed has various other senior roles at Synergy, including spending a number of years as west regional lead, whilst now having responsibilities in finance and leading the marketing of the practice.


Tom Shardlow BVSc MRCVS

Tom graduated in 2007 and has spent the majority of his career working in farm animal practice in Dorset. Tom is particularly interested in youngstock health and improving dairy heifer performance, and as the leader of our Youngstock team advises farmers on building design, preventive healthcare and nutrition across the practice. Tom became a shareholder in the practice in 2018.



Esme qualified in 2009 and has worked in farm animal practice throughout her career, both in the UK and in New Zealand.  Esme has particular interests in bovine fertility and completed the prestigious Diploma in Bovine Reproduction in 2020.  She is also interested in dairy youngstock and calf rearing and delivers consultancy in this area to a number of clients.  Esme became a shareholder in the practice in 2019.


Alasdair Moffett BVMS MSc MRCVS

Alasdair qualified in 2008 and has worked in farm animal veterinary practices within the UK, and in New Zealand. He recently completed a diploma in International Animal Health, where he focused on disease costing and modeling (particularly bovine TB) and a ‘One Health’ approach to antimicrobial resistance. Alasdair is particularly motivated by striving to improve efficiency in the medium sized family dairy enterprises of the practice. Alasdair became a shareholder in the practice in 2019.


Gareth Foden BVetMed Cert AVP MRCVS

Gareth qualified in 2011 and is interested in a wide range of farm animal veterinary work particularly cattle lameness, fertility and surgery, and likes the practical approach to health planning on farm. Gareth is a key member of the Cattle Lameness Academy team and continues to develop a specialism in this area.  Gareth is the West region lead vet and became a shareholder in the practice in 2019.

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Clare Eames BVSc MRCVS

Clare qualified in 2001 and has had a varied career working in farm animal practice, as a consultant for ADAS and as a technical vet for Pfizer Animal Health.  Clare is particularly interested in beef and small ruminants and enjoys teaching the beef module of the RVC student rotation.

Keith Cutler

Keith Cutler BSc BVSc DipECBHM MRCVS

RCVS Recognised Specialist in Cattle Health and Production

Keith graduated in 1990 and joined Synergy Farm Health in 2020, having worked in the Salisbury area for over 25 years running the farm animal division of Endell Veterinary Group. Keith has varied clinical interests which include both dairy and suckler herd management, fertility, lameness and infectious disease control in cattle. Keith is a Diplomate of the European College of Bovine Health Management and a Director of CHeCS (Cattle Health Certification Standards) who oversee all licensed cattle health schemes in the UK.

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Tom qualified in 2011 and has spent his whole career working in farm animal practice in Somerset. He is the son of one of Synergy’s clients near Taunton and consequently has a deep understanding of both dairy farming and the wider agricultural industry.  Tom is interested in all areas of livestock productivity and herd health.

Mike Kerby


Advanced Practitioner in Bovine Reproduction

Mike qualified from Bristol in 1985 and has been in farm animal practice in the south west ever since. Mike was a partner at Delaware Veterinary Group in Castle Cary for 16 years before joining Synergy Farm Health in 2020. Mike is an honorary lecturer at Liverpool University and sits on the advisory board at Surrey University Vet School. He holds the prestigious Diploma in Bovine Reproduction from Liverpool University and has extensive experience of dairy herd health. He also has a particular enthusiasm for bovine surgery and developing the next generation of cattle vets.

Martijn 't Hoen

Martijn’t Hoen DVM CertAVP MRCVS

Martijn qualified in 2008. His entire career has been focused on farm animals, working in practices in his native Netherlands before moving to the UK in 2011. Martijn joined Synergy in 2020. Martijn is experienced in all aspect of cattle and camelid veterinary work, including bull fertility examinations and delivering AI training for farmers. He is also a CowSignals  Master trainer.

Nim Panesar

Nim Panesar BVetMed MRCVS

Nim graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2018 and spent three years working in predominantly dairy practice on the North Devon/Cornwall border. She has recently relocated to the Salisbury area to join Synergy’s expanding East team, and also to be closer to family in Berkshire. Her main clinical interest is fertility work and working to improve herd reproductive performance. She also enjoys surgical cases.  Nim is currently working towards the CertAVP in Cattle Health.

Andrew Davies

Andrew Davies BVetMed CertCHP FRCVS

Senior Director

Andrew is Senior Director of Synergy Farm Health having been Managing Director since inception in 2009 until November 2021.

His responsibilities include exploring opportunities for Business Development, working closely with the Marketing team, being involved in Medicines procurement and generally advising Senior Management. 

He is very motivated by people development and education and has been heavily involved with the development of our Internship programme and the Farm Animal Teaching rotation for final year veterinary students with the Royal Veterinary College, University of London.

Andrew is POV (Principal Official Veterinarian) of Farmcare West Ltd; on the medicines procurement Team for XLVets UK Ltd; Non-Executive Director for VDS (Veterinary Defence Society) and a Governor at Kingston Maurward College, Dorchester.

Andrew was awarded the prestigious Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (FRCVS) in 2020 for meritorious contributions to the Veterinary Profession.

Clinically he is interested in proactive health planning programmes and calf health. He has an active interest in Responsible Use of Medicines and the steps we can take in veterinary practice in minimising any impact on AMR (anti-microbial resistance).

He received the UK Food & Farming Industry Animal Health Adviser of the year award in 2019.

In his spare time, he is a keen follower of both rugby union and football – being a passionate Welshman avidly following the national rugby team but also a lifelong supporter, for his sins, of Swansea City AFC! He is a member of a local mixed voice Choir, enjoys walking the Dorset coast and countryside with his family and their dog.

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Tom Warboys BVetMed PGDipVCP MRCVS

Tom graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2017 and joined Synergy full time after completing the RVC/Synergy Farm Health internship. His particular interests include suckler production, preventative health and sustainability. Tom is the editor of our beef newsletter and is studying for his Masters in Sustainable and Efficient production alongside clinical work. He is also part of the RVC teaching team. 

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Pete O’Malley MA VetMB PGCertVetEd FHEA MRCVS

Pete has worked in farm animal practice in the south west since 2012, providing services to a large range of clients across the Somerset region during that time. Pete’s interests lie in optimising animal health and productivity in dairy herds through data driven decision making and training. His passion for education includes that of clients and students alike.

He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and is now studying for his Post Graduate Diploma in Veterinary Education and certificate in advanced veterinary practice. Pete leads a clinical teaching rotation at Synergy for Royal Veterinary College students and is a shareholder of the business.


Charlotte Mouland BVSc PGDipVCP MRCVS

Charlotte graduated from the University of Bristol in 2015 and joined Synergy as an RVC intern in 2016 after spending a calving season in New Zealand. Whilst enjoying all aspects of farm animal practice, Charlotte is particularly interested in flock health planning and works with a wide range of sheep flocks across the practice. She is also undertaking a post-graduate certificate in sheep health and production.



RCVS Recognised Specialist in Cattle Health and Production

Managing Director

Jon Reader qualified in 1997 and has been a farm animal vet in Somerset ever since. In 2010 Jon gained the RCVS Diploma in Cattle Health and Production and in 2013 was runner up as Farmers Weekly Farm Advisor of the Year. Jon is a member of the Nottingham Dairy Herd Health Group as well as being a member of the UK Dairy Cattle Mobility Steering Group. Jon was awarded the prestigious RCVS Fellowship in 2020 for his meritorious contributions to clinical practice. Jon has a particular interest in foot trimming, working with para professionals and using technology to assist in the recording and analysis of mobility and lameness records.

Jon is our Managing Director, and part of the senior management team.  He has specific responsibility for the financial management of the business.


Jo Masters Cert Ed RVN Operations Director

After a varied career in veterinary nursing, teaching, examining and practice management Jo joined Synergy Farm Health in 2012 when the farm animal service of Langport Veterinary Centre also transferred. Jo’s extensive experience of all sectors of veterinary practice, coupled with her farming background enables her to head our operational logistics working with our teams of clinicians and support staff to organise and implement resources, facilities, and protocols. Working with the Operations Manager Jo is responsible for staff employment and HR management as well as overseeing our teams of staff both in and out of the practice. Working with the Operational team Jo implements plans, projects and new initiatives as well as being responsible for elements of practice representation and client liaison.  Jo describes her role as ‘herding cats’ and is proud to be the first female Director of Synergy Farm Health.


Pete Siviter BVetMed MRCVS

Pete qualified in 2013 and has been based in Dorset with Synergy Farm Health ever since.  Pete has particular enthusiasm for on-farm discussions about herd health and preventative medicine, as well as enjoying emergency “fire brigade” work.  Pete also has an interest in small holdings and pigs, both domestic and commercial. 



Nicky qualified in 2012 and has spent her entire career working in farm animal practice, both in the UK and New Zealand. In 2018 she spent a year completing further study in sheep health and production at Nottingham University. Nicky enjoys improving flock health and productivity and joined Synergy in 2021 to further enhance our sheep team.

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Claire Rudd BVetMed MRCVS

Claire qualified in 2005, and has worked in Dorset for the majority of her career.  Her main clinical focus is cattle medicine, and she has particular interests in fertility and infectious disease control. 


Andre Northey DrMVet MRCVS

Andre graduated in 2005 in his native Germany, before joining Synergy Farm Health in 2012.  Andre is especially interested in bovine surgery and set up our Embryo Collection and Transfer service for cattle and alpacas. In 2020 Andre completed the well regarded Cow Signals training.  Andre delivers our four day AI course for farmers and herdsmen, as well as teaching final year students from the Royal Veterinary College. 

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Bella Lowis MA VetMB MRCVS

Bella graduated in 2010 and has spent the majority of her career working in Dorset, joining Synergy Farm Health in 2019.  Bella is experienced in all farm animal clinical procedures and has a particular interest in youngstock. 

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Emily Gascoigne MA VetMB DipECSRHM MRCVS
RCVS Recognised Specialist in Sheep Health and Production

Emily graduated in 2012 and has worked at Synergy Farm Health throughout her career. Whilst enthusiastic about all aspects of farm animal practice, Emily has a special interest is sheep and goat production, with particular emphasis on flock health planning, reducing production losses and infectious disease control. Emily gained the European Diploma in Small Ruminant Health Management in 2018 and is an RCVS Recognised Specialist in Sheep Health and Production.  Emily is the Regional Vet Lead for our Central Area and a shareholder in the practice.


Sam Cottam BVSc MSc MRCVS

Sam graduated in 2015 and has worked in several farm animal practices in the south west before joining Synergy Farm Health.  Sam has a particular interest in dairy cow nutrition and has been closely involved in the development of our nutritional advice service.  


Tom Clarke BVSc MRCVS
Clinical Director

Tom graduated in 2002 and has spent his whole career in farm animal practice, including several years working in New Zealand.  Tom has a particular interest in dairy herd health and productivity, in both intensive high yielding herds as well as grass based block calving units.  Tom is also one of our in house mastitis specialists.  As an AHDB mastitis plan deliverer Tom performs mastitis investigations into challenging situations on farm, specialising in dynamic testing of milking parlours.  Tom became a shareholder in the practice in 2013 and spent a number of years as East regional lead vet, before becoming Clinical Director in 2019. 

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Josie Burridge BVM&S MRCVS

Josie graduated in 2015 and joined Synergy Farm Health in 2019.  Josie has a particular interest in dairy herd health and productivity and especially youngstock.


Ben Barber BVetMed MRCVS

Ben qualified in 2014. Ben’s primary interests lie in beef cattle, both suckler herds but also calf rearers and finishers, and he spends a considerable amount of his time delivering consultancy work to the UK’s largest beef integration chain. Ben also delivers routine work to a number of dairy herds where he enjoys improving herd performance and productivity. Ben is actively engaged with the teaching of university students at Synergy and has also been part of teaching projects abroad in aid of charity.  Ben became a shareholder in the practice in 2020.