Alasdair Moffett presenting at BCVA
At the recent British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) Congress held at Celtic Manor, there were a whole series of presentations dedicated to Sustainability and VetSalus consultants were involved in delivering several of these.


There can be little doubt that as the world faces the challenges of climate change, including biodiversity collapse, species extinction and scarcity of food in many regions, vets and other members of the vet-led team, involved in animal agriculture, have an essential role to play.

Rachel Hayton of Synergy is on the Board of BCVA and has been leading on developing the BCVA Sustainability Policy. So as well as chairing both sessions Rachel also gave an overview of the BCVA Sustainability Policy Statement. Rachel explained the need for both collective and individual action and was very enthusiastic about the opportunities that exist for the profession to make a big difference. Food production must remain a high priority and improving efficiency of production will automatically result in improved sustainability. Simply exporting our carbon footprint overseas, by importing substandard food, is not an option. Rachel felt BCVA had a role in lobbying for fair metrics and a fair economic environment so that farmers could afford to make changes. She stressed that decisions must be evidence based, vets must educate themselves on sustainability. “Leading by example,” by ensuring veterinary businesses were much greener is a good starting point.

John Remnant from The University of Nottingham presented the findings of his Nuffield Scholarship world tour, which involved investigating the future of farm animal practice. Having examined many veterinary business models, he concluded that this was a genuinely global problem. Solutions included removing barriers to a farm vet career as well as showcasing best practice. Part time and flexible working was highly attractive to many vet graduates and must be facilitated. A continuing move towards preventative work was necessary and technology, John felt, would enable and drive change.

James Husband, from Map of Ag, demonstrated with modelling, some of the impacts that we should be able to measure. He described how to start measuring both enteric and feed related CO2e with some example data. He showed how the variation in cattle populations gave us the opportunity to select and breed from more efficient animals. He demonstrated examples from farms with different calving intervals, days to first calving, mastitis and endemic disease rates and importantly, varying forage quality and how they all impacted upon their GHG emissions. The differences were very clear and highlighted again the role the vet can play in driving health and welfare, thereby impacting on GHG emissions.

The unique style of Jude Capper held the audience’s attention as she presented some compelling data showing the improvements in GHG emissions already made in agriculture (19% in the US between 2007 and 2017). She postulated that if global milk production was lifted to the UK level of production, the world would need 181 million fewer cows. Clearly this is not possible, or likely, but demonstrated the potential for gains. Data was also shown to demonstrate the positive impacts on GHG emissions by reducing endemic disease and improving longevity. Jude asked the question, “which interventions are likely to be more impactful on farm?” and stressed the need for more research and evidence on which to base strategies. She also addressed some of the social pressures and motivations for dietary selection, and felt that although the future is unlikely to be “vegan”, it is going to be much more “flexitarian”

Alasdair Moffett, VetSalus Director, presented a case study from Dorset outlining the steps, challenges and opportunities that he worked through with his client as they moved towards a more regenerative style of farming. A detailed report on Alasdair’s presentation can be found here.


Cows grazing

Photo credit: Anthony Butler, Crutchley's

BCVA Board member, Vet Sustain Food and Farming Group member and Nuffield Scholar Rob Howe, demonstrated how regenerative farming offers numerous solutions to animal disease. In describing an integrated parasite control plan, he showed that a review of the whole farm system was critical and that this naturally led into the key regenerative agriculture aim of improving soil health and biodiversity. Whilst parasite control can be difficult for vets to get involved in, as products are available cheaply from trade and preventative treatment is still widely advised, Rob Howe advocated diagnostic-led treatment, which involves looking at dung to assess worm and parasite burdens before any treatment is given.

Abi Saunders, a farm carbon and soil advisor from the The Farm Carbon Toolkit, described this farmer-led initiative. For over a decade, The Farm Carbon Toolkit has worked to further the understanding of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, and Abi demonstrated how the Toolkit works and the results it produces. The presentation included how these can then be utilised to provide bespoke advice and action planning for farmers, centering around both soil health, and farm ecosystems and greenhouse gas emissions.

VetSalus Managing Director David Black presented a paper entitled “Embracing Sustainability In Veterinary Practice”. David gave some examples of what vets in practice can do; as individuals in the way we live our lives, as veterinary businesses, and as trusted advocates, advising clients on farm. He signposted some resources and a detailed report on his presentation is available here.


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