The key driver of profitability of UK dairying is the milk price. In the UK this is almost entirely driven by the big supermarkets, with milk being used as a low-price (or even loss-leader) to get customers through the door. This has meant that even though the cost of production has gone up in real terms, let alone if inflation is not taken into account, this has not been matched by a rise in the value of milk at the farm gate. However the combination of a tightening in the milk supply and an increase in the prices of paid in recent dairy commodity auctions have meant that both retail and farm gate prices have increased. Nevertheless, despite the rise current farm gate prices are only just at the average cost of production, and as winter progresses production costs are likely to rise as the relatively low forage stocks on many farms are used up. This still means that many farms will still be struggling to meet the costs of servicing debt or paying rising costs of equipment and feed. So even though the outlook for milk price (from the farm perspective) is good, there really needs to be an increase in the proportion of the milk price which goes to the farm – currently the average proportion of the retail price of milk that goes to the farmer is <25%.

However it's not all gloom and doom in the dairy sector, the return of veal to the supermarket shelves in a high-welfare form is good news. Since the crash in the 1980s on the back of the campaigns against transporting calves overseas, dairy bulls have been a burden on many farms rather than an asset. However recent media coverage, particularly the discussion between Jimmy Doherty and Tesco's on the programme Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket where Jimmy tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Tesco to buy rose veal meatballs, has put veal back on the supermarket shelves. Combined with a public endorsement by the RSPCA of the benefits of eating rose veal and the continued efforts by farming entrepreneurs to keep veal available have meant that veal production is now a viable option. This is further emphasised by the recent reports from Sainsbury that their RSPCA Freedom Food-accredited Taste the Difference range of veal products has been extended to 150 stores after a successful trial which had had sales ‘way beyond expectations’. Even more importantly Sainsbury's suppliers are paid on a cost of production model which according to the supermarket is ‘to reward outstanding animal welfare and environmental standards’. This consistent profitability is important without it veal becomes just another commodity that farmer lose money on. With it a 100-cow dairy unit could add £7,500 to £10,000 by rearing surplus dairy calves for veal; with a earnings to cost ratio of around 2:1. High welfare veal is good for vets too because maintaining high welfare in such systems is an ideal opportunity for bespoke health programmes which can reduce heifer rearing costs too. It is a shame that the cost of production model hasn't yet become mainstream in milk production!

inline image

Uterine torsion accounts between 1–20% of attended calvings and anecdotal reports have suggested that the incidence is increasing. In this Clinical Forum, Nick Lyons reviews the condition and discusses the risk factors and treatment with a panel of leading cattle practitioners

inline image

In this interesting case study, Keith Baxter investigates an outbreak of diarrhoea in young calves in a spring block calving herd. The outbreak of diarrhoea resulted in a mortality rate of 10% in the younger calves. Keith goes on to review the management shortfalls on the farm and discusses the treatment options in this interesting case

inline image

To maintain milk quality and reduce bacterial cross infections between cows it is essential to have an effective plant cleaning regime. In this Clinical Refresher, Ian Ohnstad reviews cleaning procedures and highlights the importance of monitoring to ensure standards are maintained.

E coli has traditionally been associated with peracute mastitis but is now commonly seen with persistent sub acute mastitis. In this Disease Facts, Richard Laven investigates the changing role of E coli.

On farm treatment of hypocalcaemia is discussed by Phil Scott. A recent survey revealed that over 60% of cases treated by farmers subsequently died, casting serious doubt on the correct diagnosis and treatment by farmers.

An outbreak of enteritis post weaning on a pig unit is investigated by Mark White. Follow the investigation in this interesting self assessment.