Associations between farmer participation in veterinary herd health management programs and farm performance

M Derks, T van Werven, H Hogeveen, W D J Kremer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In the past few decades, farms have increased in size and the focus of management has changed from curative to preventive. To help farmers cope with these changes, veterinarians offer veterinary herd health management (VHHM) programs, whose major objective is to support the farmer in reaching his farm performance goals. The association between farm performance and participation in VHHM, however, remains unknown. The aim of this paper was to compare farm performance parameters between participants and nonparticipants in VHHM and to differentiate within participation to evaluate the possible added value of VHHM on the farm. Five thousand farmers received a questionnaire about the level of VHHM on their farm. Farm performance parameters of these 5,000 farms were provided. For all respondents (n=1,013), farm performance was compared between participants and nonparticipants and within level of participation, using linear mixed and linear regression models. Farmers who participated in VHHM produced 336 kg of milk/cow per year more and their average milk somatic cell count (SCC) was 8,340 cells/mL lower than farmers who did not participate in VHHM. Participating herds, however, had an older age at first calving (+12d), a lower 56-d nonreturn rate percentage (-3.34%), and a higher number of inseminations per cow (+0.09 inseminations). They also had more cows culled per year (+1.05%), and a lower age at culling (-70 d). Participants in the most-extended form of VHHM (level 3) had a lower SCC (-19,800 cells/mL), fewer cows with high SCC (-1.70%), fewer cows with new high SCC (-0.47%), a shorter calving interval (-6.01 d), and fewer inseminations per heifer (-0.07 inseminations) than participants in the least-extended form of VHHM (level 1). Level 3 participants, however, also had more cows culled per year (+1.74%) and a lower age at culling (-103 d). Discussing specific topics with the veterinarian (milk production, fertility, and udder health) had only marginal effects on improving the farm performance parameters related to those topics. Given the relevance of fertility on the farm and the focus on longevity by society, it is important to determine underlying reasons for the negative associations of these topics with participation in VHHM. A longitudinal study could provide answers to this. For now, veterinarians should be aware of the associations. The increased milk production and milk quality could help the marketing of VHHM to farmers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1336-47
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • veterinary herd health management
  • dairy farmer
  • veterinarian
  • farm performance


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