New Farmer Engagement Tool will help Vets Improve Client Beef Suckler Systems

MILTON KEYNES, UK, 18 October 2019 – A new on-farm audit tool from MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA, will help vets in practice engage more proactively with beef suckler producers. The tool also enables the development of an action plan for the farmer to address the key areas influencing optimum herd health and performance.

Speaking at the BCVA launch of a new Suckler Herd Performance Checklist, Ellie Button MRCVS of Howells Veterinary Services said the new engagement tool helps a vet assess performance across the five crucial time periods and processes impacting on the success of beef suckler herds (see figure 1). Mrs Button is one of five practising veterinarians focused in beef production that collaborated to develop the tool based on their own working experiences, clinical research studies, economic data and industry recommendations.

“For example, reducing calf morbidity and mortality rates in a suckler herd starts with management practices before conception. Optimum performance also requires following proper management protocols throughout the youngstock period from birth to weaning, including effective colostrum administration, vaccination, nutrition and hygiene,” said Mrs Button.

Drawing on results from MSD Animal Health’s recent National Youngstock Survey1 Mrs Button said that, on average, beef suckler producers rate their management practices at 7 out of 10 in these crucial areas. However, in the surveyed farms, 83% left colostrum to natural suckling only and 79% never checked colostrum quality.

“The survey results also highlighted an opportunity for farmers to engage more with their vets during disease outbreaks. While 72% experienced scour and 34% experienced mortality due to scour, only 41% had the cause of scour diagnosed. The findings are similar for pneumonia cases: 57% experienced pneumonia, which caused 34% to experience mortality. However, fewer than 30% of those surveyed had the cause of pneumonia diagnosed. This data suggests there is significant room for improvement on many UK beef suckler units and we as vets can help,” she said.

“The new checklist also provides a tool to use during routine health planning, for a thorough approach looking at aspects of animal health in depth. It can be used to provide confidence to vets who are less experienced with suckler herds and allow them to have a structured evidence-based approach on farm.”

According to MSD livestock veterinary advisor Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, the new checklist explores, records and scores suckler herd performance to allow the vet to identify the strengths and weaknesses of an individual unit’s environment and processes.

“Working through a series of 10 questions within each of the five areas – designed to tease out where a rearing unit is in terms of accepted best management practice – allows vet and farmer to quickly pinpoint any areas needing attention. What’s more, repeating the checklist every six or 12 months is a great way to keep things on track, allowing both parties to monitor progress against agreed targets,” said Dr Baxter-Smith.

“A similar style of checklist has been available to youngstock rearing units in the dairy industry for more than a year now, with several vets reporting that it has proved integral in their work with farmers to help reduce calf morbidity and mortality rates. Use of the checklist approach is also helping cut antibiotic usage through the implementation of preventative health practices such as vaccination,” she said.

Figure 1: The key processes and time periods impacting on optimum suckler herd performance

  1. Optimising fertility and managing pregnancy
  2. Getting calving and neonatal management right
  3. Managing young calves: the first 24 hours to 42 days of age
  4. Managing older calves: 42 days of age to weaning
  5. Setting goals and measures


  1. MSD Animal Health National Youngstock Survey (2018).

About MSD Animal Health
For more than a century, MSD, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA, is the global animal health business unit of MSD. Through its commitment to the Science of Healthier Animals®, MSD Animal Health offers veterinarians, farmers, pet owners and governments one of the widest ranges of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and health management solutions and services as well as an extensive suite of digitally connected identification, traceability and monitoring products. MSD Animal Health is dedicated to preserving and improving the health, well-being and performance of animals and the people who care for them. It invests extensively in dynamic and comprehensive R&D resources and a modern, global supply chain. MSD Animal Health is present in more than 50 countries, while its products are available in some 150 markets. For more information, visit or connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.