The Opportunity in the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway
The DEFRA Animal Health & Welfare Pathway is central to the government’s manifesto commitment to protect and enhance farm animal health and welfare, and to maintain and build on existing world-leading standards in England.
The Pathway was launched in 2023 and supports continual improvement in farm animal health and welfare. It is a partnership that requires working together on each step with farmers, vets, the wider industry including all relevant veterinary para professionals such as RAMAs/SQPs, foot trimmers and vet techs as well as the supply chain including farmers merchants.
The government is providing funding to support this. This opportunity and indeed responsibility on everyone involved in any aspect of animal health and welfare needs to be taken seriously and used to ensure this limited time offer works. In addition, a payment-by-results approach could reward farmers who demonstrate high animal health and welfare outcomes by further contributing to the ongoing costs associated with higher welfare practices (‘enhancements’) such as regular strategic FWEC. This is a government funded investment boost for Animal Health and Welfare.
Keith Cutler, a well-respected livestock vet coined the phrase, ‘The sum of the parts is greater than the whole’. For RAMAs/SQPs there are so many opportunities within this and a significant one which we’ll focus on here is outlined for sheep.
For sheep, the priorities are to:
- provide a tailored health screening to address a range of endemic diseases, estimated to cost the sector around £85 million per year - initially this will focus on internal and external parasites (and associated anthelmintic efficacy), mastitis, ‘iceberg’ diseases and those inducing abortion
- reduce lameness as it is one of the most common signs of ill health and discomfort among sheep, affecting animals’ mobility, productivity and longevity
- improve ewe sustainability, optimising body condition so that ewes are less susceptible to disease, produce better quality milk and can rear a greater number of healthier lambs
- improve pain management during castration and tail docking - we want to support the licensing and uptake of pain relief to reduce the impact of these procedures.
While there are significant areas of the health plan that require veterinary input such as detection and management of iceberg diseases in sheep as well as fertility, RAMAs/SQPs have a huge opportunity and duty to contribute on parasites and anthelmintics.
Discussing FECs (faecal egg counts) is something that all RAMAs/SQPs who are engaged in prescription of anthelmintics should be doing. Getting involved in the DEFRA Pathway requires asking about the Wormer Treatment Check which farmers may have had done on their lambs . If farmers haven’t capitalised on this yet, it is a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate capability and engage them in the Pathway opportunity.
You will need to encourage them to speak to their vet about it. Remind farmers that the Pathway is a funded annual visit from their chosen vet and can be undertaken anytime.
For sheep, the review is to include a Worming Treatment Check via a faecal egg count (FEC), and this must be done within a six-month window from application. As the best time do this check is over the summer / early autumn, then as noted by SCOPS, the best time for farmers to apply is in the late spring into summer so that the Worming treatment check time can be optimised.
The vet visit doesn’t just focus on parasites and anthelmintics as demonstrated by the points above - it is more holistic than that and will focus on a flock's specific health and welfare priorities, which will of course vary. In your conversation with farmers it is worthwhile advocating for the breadth of what is on offer. Application is via the Defra website. Ask who their vet is and proactively follow up with the vet to discuss what you may already know about the flock and past treatments and find out what recommendations may be made within the health plan, offering your perspective and input on this where relevant. The emphasis is on team and maximising the ability of working together.
Stephen Dawson, AMTRA's chief executive commented: "The emphasis from DEFRA on the role of the vet makes it all the more important that RAMAs embrace this opportunity. Better knowledge of the effectiveness of worms on the farm will help in guiding your customers to better approaches next time. Make sure your farmer customers and their vets understand the value and knowledge that you bring. Make sure your place in developing parasite control strategies, and in supplying the medicines and advice that comes with them, is fully appreciated and recognised by all involved."
SCOPS has created a dedicated page on its website to provide resources to farmers on maximising the Worming Treatment Check which forms a part of the health plan within the Pathway. Visit www.scops.org.uk/treatmentcheck for tips on timings, product-choice, dose rates and techniques, and ongoing monitoring.
This is an opportunity initially rolled out in England that needs to be recognised. AMTRA would love to hear some stories of how AMTRA RAMAs have engaged with and made the pathway work for them and their farmers. Please let us know by emailing case studies to [email protected]. Please include details of how you started the conversation, what interactions you had with the farmer’s vet, the processes involved and the outcomes.