Communication remains a challenge


Don't just play the blame game; remain proactive in talking about herd issues

Several years ago, one of my clients failed to make progress after being on a Johne's disease control program for a long time.

I asked an expert in that syndrome to join me at the farm and reviewmanagement. When we went to the area where cows delivered their calves,I was surprised to see it overcrowded and dirty. I commented to the producerthat I had never seen it in that condition, and he replied, "That'sbecause you only come back here to deliver a calf, and we chase out theextra animals and put fresh bedding in before you get here". Just alittle lack of communication there!

Since that time I have joined the staff of a feed company, and currentlyserve as a sales manager. In this role, I often interact with dairy customerson herd management issues. One thing I have learned is that I was not uniquein having communication lapses with clients.

Individual vs. herd

A few weeks ago, I was on a well-managed farm that is served by a verycompetent practitioner. They were having health problems since purchasingnew animals approximately two weeks earlier. Quite a few animals were showingsigns of respiratory infection, and several had died. They asked me if Icould recommend anything "stronger" than the antibiotic they wereusing.

As we talked, I learned that no testing of the new animals had been conducted.They had not consulted their veterinarian prior to the purchase. In fact,it was not clear if he was even aware of the disease outbreak, as the ownercould not recall discussing it with him. As is often the case, this producerviewed his veterinarian as someone to call to treat an individual sick animal,but not someone with whom to consult regarding herd management.

The more I heard regarding symptoms and history, the more I became concernedabout the possibility of bovine virus diarrhea (BVD) being involved. Twomoribund animals were submitted to the state diagnostic lab, and BVD wasconfirmed. This explained the severity of the outbreak and lack of response.Unfortunately, the vaccination program on the farm had been allowed to lapse(that sometimes happens even on "well-managed" farms).

As we consider this chain of events, it is easy to see that better communicationbetween veterinarian and client could have either prevented or lessenedthe impact of this disease outbreak. First, the client could have askedthe doctor for advice on precautions to take before purchasing new animals.This could have led to some pre-purchase testing, and certainly to gettingthe herd current with vaccinations. Second, once illness appeared, a diagnosiscould have been made much sooner if the practitioner had been consulted.

Not sick enough?

In another recent event, I was asked my opinion about some calves thatwere showing classic signs of coccidiosis. Before answering, I asked whathis herd veterinarian thought, and was told "Oh, I haven't asked him".The producer in this case did not view the calves as "sick enough"to need professional treatment, and did not see his veterinarian as a sourceof information.

One more example transpired at a third dairy, when the farm manager askedmy opinion of the "Ovsync" program. He had heard it discussedat a farm meeting, and wanted to know more about it. Before I proceeded,I again asked what his veterinarian suggested, and learned that he had notdiscussed it with him, despite having had abundant opportunity.

Who's to blame

It is tempting to simply blame the client for this lack of communication.But discussions tend to follow established patterns. If the doctor typicallyis not involved in herd management issues, then it does not occur to theproducer to include him or her. I have witnessed this attitude many timeswhen I am on farms.

Practitioners need to be proactive in their involvement with their clients'operations. This creates a very clear "win-win" situation forboth the doctor and client. The doctor is better compensated for his orher knowledge and expertise, while the producer learns to implement improvedmanagement protocols. Creating a clear discussion time on each monthly herdvisit is a good way to do this.

Part of this discussion needs to include records review, with some meansin place to monitor herd performance and progress. The discussion needsto allow you to introduce new concepts, and part should be for the clientto ask you questions. Before leaving, the doctor should ask, "Are youplanning any changes?"

Even doing all of this will not guarantee that communication will becomplete. But the probability of the doctor being informed regarding whatis happening on that farm will be increased tremendously. Time devoted tothis endeavor is certainly billable, and is money well spent by the client.

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