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THERE is no shortage of health challenges to livestock populations that play an essential part in modern agriculture. Despite the best endeavours of the veterinary profession, many of our livestock species still suffer from diseases that affect their health, welfare and productivity. This is hardly due to a failure of effort, or a lack of understanding or knowledge of the diseases that still occur commonly. The economic impacts associated with the production inefficiencies brought about by disease and poor productivity are also well understood (Erb 1984). In addition, there is developing evidence that the significant environmental impacts of agricultural livestock are closely correlated with production efficiency, which in itself is closely correlated to health and productivity (Capper and others 2009). ‘Where you have livestock you have deadstock’ is a common saying among livestock farmers, but this is not necessarily true: while many dairy farmers sustain significant wastage and inefficiency through cows being prematurely culled due to sickness, death or injury, many others successfully minimise their losses (Orpin and Esselmont 2010). Many of these forced culls are animals that succumb to disease or injuries that can be prevented. The great variability between the best and the worst culling performance in our dairy herds suggests that these losses are not inevitable, but preventable.
What is lacking in our quest to truly predict and prevent disease and injury is a thorough understanding of the risks that predispose our livestock to health threats and a structured system to identify these risks on individual farms and in livestock populations. Once we have this understanding, along with a coherent structure for delivering preventive veterinary care, it would be possible to construct a programme of risk management to prevent trouble before it arises, rather than waiting for a problem to appear …
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