Our third in the series of the Future of the Dairy industry, sees BCF interview Owen Atkinson. Owen is the managing director and founder of Dairy Veterinary Consultancy, specialising in knowledge transfer and health improvement to ultimately improve profits and sustainability.
He has a RCVS diploma in Cattle Health and Production, which has only been awarded twenty times in twenty years and is an indication of high academic professional standards. He was also awarded a clinical research grant by the British Cattle Veterinary Association in order to study the prevalence of clinical indicators for SARA in UK dairy herds.
Owen speaks of how the role of the veterinarian and ultrasound will change given changes in the dairy industry surrounding increased use of big data and technology.
So the role of the farm vet in the next five years will continue to evolve alongside the evolution of dairy farms. Dairy farms are becoming more business focused and they’re looking for vets who can add value to their businesses. Farms are looking for more value out of their veterinary spend and they are starting to realise that value comes from preventative work and not treating sick animals.
There are some definite changes in the way farm vets are working with their dairy clients particularly over the last 3 years we’ve seen a lot of practices now using vet techs more and more, the power of professionals, and so the vet’s role is becoming more one of data management and advisory and overseeing and less one of doing the practical manual tasks that would have been traditionally done by vets. So technology is also having a role to play in how vets work with their farm clients and again another big change in the last 5 years in particular has been the increased amount of data now available.
I think there is a scope for integrating ultrasound better into dairy management systems, at the end of the day when a vet is scanning on a farm, he or she is collecting data and at the moment a lot of that data is written down by the farmer, maybe put in to a computer system, it might be used to update a farmer’s wall calendar which indicates the pregnancy status or otherwise of the cows in the herd. But it is data collection, I think if we can be a bit smarter how that data then integrates with more sophisticated computer management systems. I think it might make the use of scanning more valuable and it might make it more streamlined, one of the challenges of the vet is to not get tangled up with cables to remain relatively clean and to transfer that information accurately to the farmer.
The farmer himself is often tasked with moving cows around, holding trays for the vet and actually capturing that information can be quite clumsy, it can involve the vet shouting out numbers, shouting out codes maybe, if they have a code system for scoring what’s on the ovaries and then someone else, usually the herdsman or the farmer writing that information down. And then when it’s written down, which might be on a scrap of paper that gets dropped in the slurry, it’s got to be transferred to something else to make use of that information, so when you analyse actually what is going on with the use of scanning, we’ve got this very sophisticated piece of equipment, but there is a very antiquated method of communicating the data that’s being collected to something that uses it and makes best use of that data.
There is room for efficiency improvements which will improve everyone’s life, because that’s going to improve the vet’s life, it’s going to improve the herdsman’s life, and it will improve the life of the cows because that information is going to get used for their benefit.