In the United Kingdom it’s usually routine fertility visits and monthly health reports that fill Hannah Batty’s day but in Southland it’s been calvings and metabolic problems.
The Yorkshire-born and bred dairy vet flew into Christchurch in mid-July and after a week’s road trip to Winton started working at VetSouth just as calving was about to start in the deep south.
“I wanted a change, to expand my horizons a bit and I wanted to learn how dairy farmers use only grass and have seasonal milking over here,” the 27-year-old says.
She has six months’ leave from the practice where she works in Shropshire and although she has one farm she works with there that has 1000 cows, the average is 250.
“It’s very different. The principles are the same – a cow is a still a cow – but they are managed differently and bred for different purposes.
“Where I work in the UK, the cows are mostly housed for at least part of the year, they’re fed TMR, there is a big emphasis on yield, which is in litres, and they calve all through the year.
“Here the cows have to walk a lot further to paddocks and the calving period is intense.
“And it seems with a problem calving, in New Zealand it’s the last resort to call the vet. In the UK if things aren’t progressing as they should be after half an hour we’re usually called in.
“Unfortunately the number of calvings that result in a live calf are quite a lot lower here than what I am used to in the UK. Often more time has passed between the onset of calving and being called out to assist.”
She chose NZ for a working holiday as she had met a number of English farmers who had been here to learn about all-grass farming.
“As vets we don’t often get to see the farming side, especially of grass management, so it’s been really interesting to see how it’s done here.”
‘The scenery is just stunning here. I’ll be at Mossburn or somewhere else on a visit and I have to stop the car to just look at it all. It’s beautiful.’
She’s impressed with how southern farmers check the health of their cows with liver biopsies and blood testing to see what the mineral levels are and also how we opt to have calves sedated for disbudding.
“My previous experience with disbudding has just been using local and an anti-inflammatory when we disbud but I really like how you do it here. That is something I want to take back with me.”
She is still getting used to the routine of seasonal calving.
“At home my day might be a fertility visit and then there might be a sick cow to see and then there will be reports to write up. Here it is all calvings and metabolics, and then weeks of almost all disbudding and metrichecking, then it’s the start of pre-mating visits.”
She’s a fan of Twitter and has about 500 followers and for years has tweeted photos showing what she is doing.
“It’s a really useful tool to show what good practice looks like, what good calves look like, what good animals look like.”
She always checks with the farmer first, and with the vet clinic, and only sends out positive tweets.
“It’s pretty hard for people who don’t like farming to have a go at you if you’re showing a picture of lovely looking calves for example. Instead of getting into disputes on Twitter I think it’s better to drown out the negative with all the positives.”
She has followed with interest the reaction to the recent cases of Mycoplasma bovis in the South Island.
“Some of the herds at home I look after have it. We usually see it more as pneumonia in calves than as mastitis or swollen joints.
“After seeing what is happening here, I think it has made me think about my approach to the disease, in particular making sure I emphasise when to cull and when to manage cases.”
She says NZ management of Johne’s Disease is slightly behind the UK’s, where there is now increasing pressure from milk buyers to know a herd’s status, but our routine testing for BVD mirrors where the UK is heading with their BVD Free scheme.
Hannah finishes at VetSouth at the end of November and plans to explore the country with a friend from university and do some tramping before heading home at the start of February.
“The scenery is just stunning here. I’ll be at Mossburn or somewhere else on a visit and I have to stop the car to just look at it all. It’s beautiful.”
Hannah’s twitter address is @Han_Batty