Farm Health Online - A New Repository of Good Practice

29 April 2016

Stephen Roderick's picture
Stephen Roderick
27 July 2012 - Gloucester Old Spot and her piglets at Daylesford Organic farm- Martin Morrel ©Gloucester Old Spot and her piglets at Daylesford Organic farm- Martin Morrel

Animal health & welfare: do we have the right tools for the job?

Most of us know that the ever increasing public demand for the highest standards of animal welfare and the massive threat of antimicrobial resistance, not to mention the other potential environmental and public health concerns, requires a new emphasis on the way we manage our farm animals. We also all know that prevention is better than cure when it comes to our own health. The same should apply to farm animals. We know what we need to do, but do we have the right tools to make it happen?

Whilst techniques such as farm health planning, including fancy recording and disease risk software, and various practical welfare measures, such as lameness and body condition scoring, are available to farmers, much of the information that comes from new research either remains in an inaccessible format, or is spread haphazardly across cyber-space.

Duchy College’s Rural Business School has a huge amount of experience disseminating science into practice. We have teamed up with the most highly regarded food label in North America, Animal Welfare Approved, and parent organisation A Greener World, to produce a comprehensive web-based resource, www.farmhealthonline.com, aimed at providing practical knowledge and guidance for farmers committed to the highest standards of animal welfare and sustainability.

The Farm Health Online philosophy...

The philosophy behind the website centres on promoting land-based animal production, ensuring responsible use of veterinary medicines and achieving positive animal welfare. The organic approach to livestock farming provides us with a great template for this, with the emphasis on: forage-based feeds; the use of breeds suited to the prevailing conditions; the provision of outdoor access and housing conditions that enable the expression of natural behaviours; as well as the focus on preventive veterinary management. In fact, the website was first developed, back in the late 90s, specifically for organic farmers. Since then it has undergone numerous facelifts and updates, resulting in this most recent reincarnation: www.farmhealthonline.com. It is now aimed at all farmers who wish to achieve the very best for their animals and the planet.

We have spent hours, days and months scouring the internet, reading the academic literature and distilling the main findings into easily accessible pages packed with relevant and practical information. We have used and cited well over 2,000 scientific references, all of which have links back to their original source.

A venerable repository of good practice!

Designed to complement - but not replace - advice from veterinary surgeons, the free-to-access website covers more than 120 diseases affecting cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry, with guidance on symptoms, prevention and treatment all arranged in an alphabetical index. A new section on goat production will also follow soon. It encompasses extensive proven knowledge on nutrition, housing, breeding and husbandry, and a special veterinary question section dealing with key issues such as biosecurity, zoonoses, anti-microbial resistance and health planning.

Understanding animal behaviour is key to achieving positive conditions for animals, and we have summarised much of the current scientific knowledge in this area so that it is relevant and practical. As the old saying goes, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make a chicken walk the range! Well, visit the website, and they will.

A feature of the disease sections is the explanations of predisposing disease factors (the aetiology) and the disease patterns that occur in herds and flocks (the epidemiology). This knowledge is essential to the development and success of sustainable disease control approaches. Wherever possible, we have used diagrams to explain some of these issues, and in particular to explain disease life-cycles.

Practical and accessible - what do you think?

We haven’t totally re-created the wheel! We’ve collated good quality existing advisory material into one accessible place. For example, there are well-used downloadable charts on how to condition score animals, borrowed videos demonstrating techniques such as in-parlour mastitis diagnosis and many web-links to sources of further information. We have also provided ‘hover-over’ definitions of some of the scientific and jargon terms that appear in the veterinary literature but are gobbledegook to the rest of us.

The site is now live, so please take a look. Our work on the site is by no means complete, and there is still much to be done. We will continue to expand and improve, and respond to what farmers and others are telling us. We would love to hear your views - both good and bad, and particularly your suggestions for improvements.  

Visit the About Us section at Farm Health Online for details on how to contact us. For more on A Greener World visit: www.agreenerworld.org.

The information contained above reflects the views of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of Agricology and its partners.