For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Anna Cornforth. I used to be a mixed practice vet in Otley before coming across to NZ in August 2019. I currently work in South Canterbury as a farm vet. The majority of my work is with dairy cows, however I do see the odd beefie, sheep and farm pet. Deer are also commonly farmed over here for venison and their velvet however so far I have only had limited experience with them.

I’ve been asked to give you a brief run down of the kind of work a South Island farm vet might be doing at this time of year. We are currently well in the thralls of Autumn on this side of the world. The nights have drawn right in, and today a cold Southerly wind managed to fill my truck with brown pine needles after I foolishly left my boot open while preg testing some cows. Farming over here is still very seasonal and with the end of the month also comes the end of the milking season for 90% of our herds. As such most of my current work is preparing for winter.

Some of these jobs might include:

  • Pre winter liver biopsies and blood samples to test for trace elements – Canterbury soils are notoriously low in trace elements such as selenium, copper and iodine which are all vital for things such as immune function, growth and reproduction. As such we regularly test (pre-winter and pre-mating) and supplement animals to avoid deficiencies.
  • Milk quality review – we use this to discuss how the season has gone in terms of mastitis and milk production and look at areas for improvement. It also gives us an opportunity to discuss dry off decisions.
  • Heifer teat sealing – In a wet year when the paddocks are muddy teat sealing heifers can reduce mastitis cases in the fresh period by 10%. When all your heifers are calving in a tight window there are some serious management advantages to not having to treat multiple kicking heifers all at the same time. As such heifer teat sealing is extremely popular. It is generally done on a trailer designed specifically for the purpose that loads 5-6 heifers at a time.
  • Pre winter pregnancy scanning – Most final scans are done around February. However as winter grazing prices increase it is becoming more popular to rescan just before dry off. Up to 3% of cows can have late pregnancy losses, which in a 1000 cow herd may be a significant number. The whole herd is generally scanned through a milking (in rotary sheds) with the vets stood on a platform behind. The probes are used so we only stick an arm up there to confirm an empty cow.

On the sheep front, we are currently having lots of discussion with clients around worms. Conditions over here are pretty dry and feed is tight going into winter. Feed stress (and all types of stress) reduce the body’s defences and allow internal and external parasites to get more of a foot in the door. As such drench choice has been a hot topic. Over the past few months we have also carried out a couple feacal egg reduction tests on farms that have demonstrated a significant amount of drench resistance in the area, something which is also a growing issue back home! Responsible drenching is key to protecting productivity in the future, and based of recent experiences I encourage you to have a chat to your vet at home about drench management even if you don’t think that you currently have a problem.

Heading into winter I am hoping that we don’t see many acidosis, bloat or nitrate poisoning outbreaks, which are all risks from the winter feeding systems practised here. This being said with growing levels of knowledge surrounding feeding management, problems on large scales are becoming less common. My more pressing concern is whether the weather is getting too chilly to wear my Canterbury shorts to work, or whether I man up and truly embrace the kiwi farmer look by wearing them all year round  alongside with my gumboots (aka wellies) and Crusaders bobby hat.

I should be back in Spring to give you an up date on how calving is going. Until then take care!

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