The pioneering Hi Health cattle health scheme, adopted voluntarily by almost 1,000 producers throughout the Highlands and Islands, is a wonderful example of what ought to be happening in the rest of the UK, according to one of the Government’s top animal health advisors.
Six years of development work have already gone into the scheme and, during a visit to Inverness this week – to meet up with George Gunn, head of the epidemiology unit at SAC and one of the scheme’s main architects – Tim Brigstocke, chief executive of CHeCS (Cattle Health Certification Standards) said it was a credit to everyone concerned.
“We are seeing initiatives getting under way in places like Cornwall but, in general, the uptake of cattle health schemes is low.” he said.
“Hi Health shows what is possible and achievable and it is doing exactly what the Government gets excited about – working from a strong scientific base with strong farmer buy-in.
“If this can work in some parts of the UK, it begs the question of why not in others. It is great to see that, in the Highlands and Islands, scheme organisers have managed to persuade farmers to join and to stay committed, with interest and enthusiasm. It is a jolly good model.”
An annual farm health plan is set to become a necessity but the HI Health programme – spearhead by the Scottish Agricultural College and Highlands and Islands Enterprise with backing from Europe and Scottish Executive – is already steps ahead.
“Those who adopt the package can guarantee superior health and traceability of their animals and commitment of hundreds of producers and their vets to a wide-ranging disease eradication effort is undoubtedly helping to boost the areas already high reputation for quality livestock,” said HI Health chairman Michael Cursiter, who farms in Orkney.
Speaking at a meeting in Inverness, he said members believed in trying to enhance the Scottish beef industry by doing something different because everyone knew that it was impossible to compete against imports on price.
“By committing to Hi Health, we believe we have a head start and we would like to see others coming on board to expand still further the reservoir of accredited animals on Scotland’s farms. To be really meaningful, what we need is a critical mass.”
Elimination of previous disease problems and avoidance of new ones are the keys to the Hi Health’s success and the programme has been concentrating on monitoring and screening herds for diseases such as BVD, IBR, Leptospirosis and Johne’s Disease through close farmer/vet relationships.
Individual herd health plans are drawn up and prevention and/or control strategies implemented, with all members and vets keeping in regular touch through vet practice group meetings
BSE, foot and mouth and classical swine fever have raised the animal health issue to a higher plain i n recent months and, with Quality Meat Scotland now making a recommendation that all farmers undertake an annual health audit, producers in areas outwith the Highlands are making contact with Hi Health.
Mr Gunn said: “There are a number of health schemes and it’s a free market but we have built up considerable experience within HI Health. We have also expanded our scheme to include sheep and more and more groups of farmers are showing an interest in signing up.
“At the first level, we look at overall health but we find that almost everyone in Hi Health is motivated to expand the initial involvement from monitoring to disease eradication.”
Michael Durno, Auchorachan, Glenlivet has been appointed vice-chairman of HI Health and directors include Ruairdh Mackenzie, Heathmount, Tain; Ian Wilson, Wester Cairnglass, Gollanfield; and Jim MacMillan, Caithness.