Norfolk vet’s scheme hopes to help farmers boost their bottom line with healthier herds

Tom Hume of Westover Veterinary Centre visiting a cattle farmer in Attlebridge. Photo: Steve Adams

Tom Hume of Westover Veterinary Centre visiting a cattle farmer in Attlebridge. Photo: Steve Adams

A Norfolk vet has launched a pioneering 'beef suckler scheme' aimed at helping farmers boost the bottom line by improving animal health.

Tom Hume from Westover Veterinary Centre, in Hainford, near Norwich, said the scheme includes pregnancy scanning all the cows, fertility testing all stock bulls, checking the baby calves to ensure good colostrum management and then checking the cows after calving to ensure they have not got an infection in their uterus that would stop them getting back in calf.

He said: 'In Norfolk we have seen a decline in the number of dairy farms, but an increase in the number of people farming beef. It soon became clear that we could do more for our beef farmers.'

Mr Hume, who became a partner at the practice in 2008, said: 'We also have a health planning session that allows us to analyse the performance of the herd, set the targets we want to achieve for the year ahead and discuss vaccination and treatment protocols.'

Work is paid for by way of a monthly fee dependent on the size of herd, while the practice has reduced its normal hourly rate and offered a discount on drugs for members of the scheme to help increase enagagement with farmers and improve efficiency by better planning of workloads.

'This means that any work they want done that doesn't fall within the scheme (such as a calving or sick cow) is now cheaper,' he said. 'Small improvements can make a big difference because a lot of the costs of the system are fixed.

'We love doing veterinary work on farms and we know that margins are tight and often the last person a farmer wants to see is the vet. The monthly payments allow better budgeting and spreading out the costs over the year. I firmly believe that the way to improve the profitability of most farms is to improve the performance, not to cut the costs. The ultimate factor for a suckler farm is the weight of saleable beef produced per year.'

Most Read

Later this year the practice will also introduce anonymised benchmarking of the scheme so that farmers can get a comparison of how their animals are faring compared to others.

He added: 'We have been health planning and benchmarking against performance targets with dairy farms for years and the beef farmers have been somewhat left behind. I felt this was a shame as there are lots of serious beef producers in our region and I think most of them would admit that they could improve their performance in some way – be that a tighter or front-loaded calving pattern, fewer abortions, fewer calf deaths, better conception rates or better growth rates of the calves. These are the thing that will have a big impact on profit and are all covered by the scheme.

'We have seen a good uptake among our farm clients since launching around Christmas time. Our vets have enjoyed being on the farms more and some of the farmers have already made big savings.'