Brendan John MRCVS

Our RoMS-qualifying mobility scoring course

On 10th Jan I ran a mobility scoring course which qualified the attendees to go on the Register of Mobility Scorers. We learned about lameness, the cost of lameness to the UK dairy industry and to individual farmers. Then we got onto the role that early detection plays in making things better. And how mobility scoring is the first step towards reducing lameness and cutting that often forgotten cost of having a lameness problem. We set our boundaries for the mobility scores in the AHDB Mobility Scoring system - from 0 (perfect locomotion) to 3 (severe lameness), using videos of other people mobility scoring. Then after lunch we went to a local dairy farm and practised what we had learnt. The scoring itself is not the complicated bit in real life - it's keeping safe, choosing a place to stand where you get a good enough view without influencing the cows and feeding back your findings to the farm staff.

This was one of the places we tried mobility scoring the cows. We had good vision of the cows from the side, could identify the cows from their freeze brands and were not impacting the way most of the cows walked... the more nosey ones stopped to look, but most kept on walking back to their feed. The surface under foot was flat, with good grip and no obstacles.

If you are interested in joining one of our future mobility scoring courses, see the details here:

Mobility Scoring Course

Blog Tags: 

Cooling dairy cows using water sprays

Cows don't like the heat - they don't have as good an ability to cope with high temperature as they do with low temperature. And when we have a few hot days in a row like right now, you will notice the physiological effect that the heat has. A lot of our dairies have fans placed throughout the cow sheds to bring in and distribute fresh cool air. I've been looking up a couple of papers about the use of water sprays to help cows stay cool, which is likely to be a useful next step in tackling the effects of heat stress.

There are a couple of good studies - this one - from Chen, Schütz and Tucker. And this one - from Legrand, Schütz and Tucker.

The Chen paper looked at what effect the flow rate and droplet size had on the cooling success. They measured cooling success using skin temperature, respiratory rate and core body temperature. They found that, contrary to popular belief, water droplet size had no recordable effect. There was thought that bigger droplets had a greater effect as it gave better hair coat penetration, but it wasn't seen in this study. And on flow rate, they found that the significant increase came from a flow rate of 1.3L/min. While increases above this rate did improve the cooling of the cows, the effect was very small and probably not worth the increased cost in terms of water usage.

The Legrand paper used a voluntary cow shower - with the cows choosing when and for how long to use a sprinkler system to cool off. The cows with access to a shower system had a lower core body temperature compared with cows not given the opportunity. The cows who could use a shower also spent less time standing at the water trough. An interesting finding here was the variability between individuals of use of the water shower: some didn't use it even though they were given access, others stood in it for 8 hours in a 24 hours period!

It might seem a lot of trouble and expense when we don't see the very high temperatures that other dairying areas of the world sometimes see, but the top end of the Comfort Zone for cattle is 25oC and we would get to this temperature in a cattle house more often than it might appear. Once we get to this temperature, the cows will be reducing movement and rumination to reduce heat production as well as trying to increase heat loss by energy consuming activities like panting, drooling and increasing skin blood flow. This all comes at a cost to efficiency, so we should look to make these cows more comfortable by lowering the temperature below the 25oC upper threshold.

Blog Tags: 

What is Bovine TB doing in your area?

Do you know what bovine TB is circulating in your area, or an area that you are looking to buy cattle from? It used to be a hushed question in the market, or ask us, but these were unreliable sources for one reason or another. Now DEFRA/APHA have teamed up with ERGO (Environment Research Group Oxford) to provide this information for the whole country, updated monthly. And it is really easy to use.

You can visit the website at Just put in a post code or CPH number, and you will see a map with active or closed breakdowns, such as the one shown here.


There's no hiding either - the flag is placed directly over the centre of the CPH. But why should we hide from our TB status? It doesn't (usually) reflect good or bad farming practice. It shouldn't change people's opinions of the stock on the farm. It is a disease, and the more we can treat it as a disease and forget the politics, the sooner we will get on top of it.

Personally I think this is a positive step from DEFRA - where they might have worried about releasing this information in the past, they are now the ones publishing it for all to see, and for all to use in our own battles to stop the spread of this hateful infection.

Information bovine TB

Blog Tags: 

Risk-based trading: an end to guilty until proven innocent?

At the moment, buying in cattle is a major threat to biosecurity. For those aiming at accreditation of freedom from certain disease, you will already know how hard it is to protect your herd when animals are being moved on, even very occasionally. But there may be a way forward on the horizon. At the moment, there is no standard format to measure how much of a threat animals pose to your herd. Therefore we have to assume that any animal is as bad as it can possibly be - that it is guilty until proven innocent.

So what if, when an animal is traded, it had a score for different diseases from its individual results in combination with knowledge of the source farm. You could use that information to consider how much of a threat that animal poses when moved onto your herd. For instance, if you have a herd which has tested negative for Johne's disease every 3 months for the last 5 years, you would want to buy animals ONLY from a herd with a similar track record. And that is the basis of risk-based trading.

We should all be calling for this system to be put in place as soon as possible. It is likely to lead to stock with lower risk carrying a premium value, but so they should - these animals have a greater value to you. True - those who are selling animals of high risk may see a reduction in value of their product, but if they have no aspiration to change their home risk level, they can buy cheaper stock into their system. If they do have aspirations to a lower risk, then there will be no greater motivator than gaining that extra value from their end product.

Blog Tags: 

Where do all the flies come from?

Just look at all the flies in the straw in this calving pen. The leaked milk and calf dung which end up in the straw in the calving pen are really rich feeds for flies and so you often see a high population here. The flies also choose this environment to lay their eggs because these same rich feeds will be available to their young. Any fly programme will need to concentrate larvacidal treatments on areas like these where the larvae will be developing. If you are struggling with flies bothering your farm animals, we have some ideas which will help to reduce the flies this year, and ready for next year too. Contact us to find out more.

Blog Tags: 

Changes to the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme requirements

You'll all have heard that Red Tractor Assurance has changed its tack on requirements as of October this year. From then, the inspections will focus on "Welfare Outcomes", rather than facility for welfare. The inspectors have been trained to assess measures of welfare by looking at cows, rather than paperwork, and this has to be a step in the right direction. They will be looking at a random sample of 10 cows, regardless of the size of the herd, and assessing:

  • mobility
  • body condition score
  • hairloss, lesions, swellings
  • cleanliness

Obviously, a random sample of 10 cows in a big herd is not going to be statistically significant, but it is thought that it will be useful enough to direct efforts. You will receive a report on the findings of the inspector, and they may give suggestions as to areas requiring attention. Please discuss these with us as the inspectors are not in a position to use any context or judgement - they are simply there to score the random sample.


The paperwork for the inspection now has 3 sections and these are:

  1. A written Herd Health Plan - this does not need to be written by a vet, but the most useful ones will be made as a team effort with all concerned
  2. Some data and targets from the previous 12 months. There are 2 extra pieces of data which you are now required to report to your inspector:
  • Total number of involuntary culls
  • Calf mortality
      a) between 0-24 hours
      b) 24 hours - 42 days

3. A declaration from a veterinary surgeon, who has reviewed the data set out in Section 2, and has examined the stock on the farm. The new wording of the Scheme Standard then says "As a result of this he can make recommendations but it is not a requirement that these are followed".


You will need to have the updated version of this paperwork for your next inspection date. The requirement for us to view the stock means that it is now impossible to sign these declarations in the office with 10 minutes to go before inspection time, so please make sure you call in advance and arrange a time for us to come and complete the visit.

Blog Tags: 

Clostridial diseases

We've noticed a spate of cases just recently which fall into a category of diseases we hate: sudden deaths or hopelessly sick animals. There've been no big outbreaks on any given farm, so it is credit to our farmers that these have not been written off as 'one of those things' but that we've been given the chance to investigate. And it has allowed us to get a wider picture.


In a couple of cases the investigation has taken the form of a post mortem examination. Before this can begin, we rule out anthrax, which would be a danger to humans and animals if the carcase were opened. This is done by staining blood taken from the tail or ear vein and looking at the slide under a microscope. If you would like to read more about the method behind this see this information sheet about Anthrax. Once anthrax has been ruled out, we can start to look through the external and then internal organs, comparing their appearance with known normals. In general, infection with Clostridial bacteria of any type hastens the breakdown of the tissues, so even fresh carcases look like they have been dead for some time. The different Clostridial bacteria cause different diseases, and affect different tissues. See the Clostridial diseases information sheet for more information.

We've seen several cases on different farms of clostridial disease being responsible for deaths in cattle, and it is worthwhile bearing this is mind. Quite a lot of farms will vaccinate against Blackleg, but these other clostridial diseases will not be covered by that vaccine. There are multivalent clostridial vaccines available which do cover against more types of Clostridial disease, and we would recommend discussing with us whether these are appropriate for your farm.

Blog Tags: 

Photosensitivity or photosensitisation

Normally a cow can cope very easily with the levels of sun exposure we see in the UK, and true sunburn is very rare. But we do see animals which have been affected by the sun and display signs which look how we would expect sunburn to look (redness, scabbiness, painful). These animals most often actually have a photosensitivity or photosensitisation issue. Photosensitivity means that they have an over-reaction to normal levels of sunlight, which is why the symptoms are those we would expect for sunburn.

The most obvious signs we are talking about are thickening and reddening of the skin, especially white areas on the back, and especially more bare skins areas such as around the nose and eyes. In these more exposed areas the skin can weep and become crusty, like around this cow's nostrils. More subtle signs that a cow might be suffering include being quiet, irritible and twitchy. In the longer term, the skin is damaged in a way that it will peel and a new layer will hopefully be revealed beneath. The back of this cow (photo below) was completely lifting off, with fully formed, haired areas underneath. This cow was treated with vitamins to aid the tissue healing process and antibiotics to cover the skin against infection while it was weakened by damage.

We obviously need to reduce these animals' exposure to sunlight and it is best to keep them inside, if possible. If this is not possible, sunblock can be used. Concentrate on the white areas where the lack of hair pigment provides less protection.

The cause of the photosentisation may need to be investigated. It is likely to be related to reduced liver function, causing a reduced clearance of phylloerythrin (a breakdown product of normal grass digestion) and this phylloerythrin reacts with sunlight in the exposed skin areas. The reduced liver function is often caused by ingestion of plants which damage the liver, such as Ragwort. Photosensitivity is less commonly caused by ingestion of a direct photodynamic agent, such as hypericin, which is found in St. John's Wort.

The prognosis for recovery is different depending on liver involvement. Where the cow has eaten a direct agent, the signs can be gone in as little as 48 hours after the removal from the offending material, although full recovery can take months. The prognosis is much worse for animals with liver damage leading to photosensitivity, as the liver damage doesn't tend to resolve.

Blog Tags: 

We've got a Facebook page - do you LIKE it?

We've got a Facebook page for the practice. It's still new to us, but we are trying to put some interesting things on it. For instance, you can see us standing aloft our vans with the Quantock Hills in the background. And you can stay updated with all the events and happenings which we will announce on there as well as on the website.

We'd love to hear your feedback, so have a look and if you can think of anything you'd like to see on there, just let us know.

Evolution Farm Vets Facebook Page

Blog Tags: 

A cow's work is never done

Have you ever thought about what your cows do with their day? In a self-centred way, we often think of their structure hanging around the times that we impose upon them – most importantly, coming in to be milked. But they have a lot more to cram in if they are going to remain healthy and productive.

For a start, let’s book in an ideal 14 hours lying down. Sounds like a funny place to start, but it is vital that she gets something like this in order to cope with the demands we put on her. Higher yielding animals actually need more time that this resting. This can be difficult to achieve when the other demands on their time increase with yield too. Quite a lot of time lying will also be spent ruminating – up to 10 hours in total during the day.

Time budget for a cow's day

This is a graphical representation of a time budget for a cow's day. In general the rule is little and often, with cows choosing to take around 10 blocks of rest rather than a single prolonged stretch.

In order to get the nutrients that they need, cows must stand and eat for up to 5 hours a day. Prolonged standing time leads to lameness issues in the herd, telling us just how important it is that cow comfort is good, encouraging cows to take the weight from their feet. Other standing jobs for cows include drinking (around 30mins), interacting with herd members (2-3 hours) and milking. The time for milking varies considerably depending on distance walked to the parlour, order of milking and number of groups in the herd. It tends to be around 3 hours a day for each cow. And that’s it – time is up. Ready to start the whole process over again.

Blog Tags: 


Subscribe to Brendan John MRCVS