Environment Secretary George Eustice set out his plans for the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway at the National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference today (Tuesday, February 22).

The Pathway, which will launch this year, is a programme of financial support for farmers in the pig, cattle, sheep and poultry sectors, based on key animal health and welfare priorities.

As part of the programme, cattle, sheep and pig farmers who are eligible for Basic Payment Scheme funding will receive a free annual visit to the vet of their choice, to the cost of between £372 and £684 - depending on the species.

The payments rates are as follows:

  • Pigs - £684;
  • Sheep - £436;
  • Beef cattle - £522;
  • Dairy cattle - £372.

"Farmers will be able to have a vet of their choice, the family vet that they trust, and the government will pay between £372 and £684 depending on the species - because the cost of test is different – in order to support an annual visit from that vet to the farm," said Eustice, speaking at the NFU conference.

The visit, which will be covered for 2-3 hours of farmer/vet time, will be bespoke. It will also involve testing for bovine viral diarrohea (BVD) in cattle, the drench test for sheep and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) in pig.

"It will remain confidential between the farmer and his vet and that vet will be able to help the farmer put together a plan for improved animal health and improved profitability on their livestock holding," Eustice added.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has called this a "real win" for the opportunities to improve animal health and welfare.

Commenting on the launch, BVA senior vice-president James Russell said:

“Good relationships between farmers and vets have always been at the heart of improving livestock health and welfare and, as the Pathway rolls out later this year, we’re keen to work with our farm clients to really focus on the disease and welfare priorities for their animals.

“It’s also an opportunity to reach those farms that don’t currently engage a vet for proactive herd health planning.

"That’s a real win for the opportunities to improve animal health and welfare, both for the individual farms and more broadly as we drive down disease pressures across regions and work towards supporting sustainable animal agriculture."

Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

The Pathway also includes measures such as reducing mastitis and lameness in dairy cattle; improving biosecurity to control pig diseases endemic to the UK; improving the feather cover of laying hens.

To help farming sectors make these improvements, Animal Health and Welfare Grants will be launched within the next year to fund investments, i.e. equipment and technology or larger projects like upgrading housing for dairy cattle to deliver improvements in lameness, cow comfort and calf mortality.

The Pathway also includes a disease eradication and control programme, which will allow farmers to apply for financial support to enable them to take measures to prevent and reduce endemic diseases affecting livestock, i.e. veterinary advice, vaccination or improvements to on-farm management.

“The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway is for those farmers who are in pursuit of higher profitability through better health outcomes, and it starts with an annual vet visit," said Eustice.

Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss also commented, adding:

“I hope to see wide-scale adoption of the Annual Health and Welfare Review as part of normal business practice, more farmers taking action to improve health and welfare, and improved outcomes when it comes to endemic diseases and conditions – which will improve animal health welfare and reduce waste, antibiotic use and financial losses”.