Dynamic health planning is a structured approach to health planning that has the potential to bring big efficiency savings and better animal health to your farm.

Tim Geraghty, from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Vet Services, explains more about it and how to try it out.

What is it? – Dynamic health planning is a farmer-led process that aims to continuously improve the health, welfare and production efficiency of livestock on farm. It’s not something that is written once and left in the farm office until the annual check-up, or something you can print online. It’s a much more involved and effective process that can bring real improvements to your system.

Why do it? – When done well, it’s a really effective way of increasing the profitability and reducing the environmental impact of your livestock enterprise. In the context of low margin and environmental pressure, it’s a really powerful way of making livestock farming more resilient.

How do I do it? – Dynamic health planning is farmer led, so the first thing to know is that you don’t need anybody else to get started (though lots of people can help you along the way). It’s a process that you follow round the production cycle, in four steps:

1. Set targets: The first thing you need are really specific, exact, written targets that you are trying to achieve. They need to be measurable, so that you will know, for certain, if you hit them or not. Avoid things like ‘improve calves’ growth rate’ and go for something tighter.

Use exact numbers, rather than percentages. Something like ‘Wean 85 calves at 230kg’ or ‘Get 90 cows back in calf in ten weeks’ fit the bill.

Read more: Rhona Anderson from Forth Valley Vets highlights the importance of flock health planning and disease prevention

Be as ambitious as you want to be, but make sure they are very specific, and measurable. Write them down in big block letters somewhere you will see them most working days. If you want help setting good targets, talk with your friends, your vet, your benchmark group, your consultant, or anybody else you want to, but set the target yourself.

2. Risk plan: The next step is to really think hard about what will stop you achieving your target. Why are you going to fail? Work in stages, rather than doing the whole year all at once. What can go wrong during pregnancy and calving? Think of as many problems as you can. How bad can it get when it is at its worst?

Now for every problem, figure out something positive you can do to prevent that happening. You can do this on your own, but your vet can really help here. An hour of your vet’s time helping you think of potential problems, and how to stop them, adds real value to the plan.

Likewise, your nutritionist and other consultants are worth so much more to the business when they help you prevent rather than react to problems. Think of it as a ‘banana skin session,’ where you find all the possible slippy banana skins and how to avoid them.

Once calving is finished do the same for calf growth, and then again for fertility performance, one stage at a time, as the year progresses. You generally only need to risk plan a few months at a time.

3. Monitor: If you like data and monitoring you will already be doing enough with all the tools we have available now. If you don’t like data, then don’t let it become a barrier.

Figure out the very minimum you need to do, but then make sure you do it really well. Look at your targets and make sure you monitor just enough to know whether you hit the target or not. That’s it. You can always add more in later years (you probably will, and more data can be really useful), but don’t let it be a barrier. Monitor the minimum you have to, based on your specific targets, and get started.

4 Fail and learn: This is the most important bit. We are going to fail. It’s almost certain, we will not hit every target (or if you do you need better targets).

Livestock are unpredictable and things go wrong. The only real failure though (that we are all guilty of at times) is not learning from it. Don’t spend a second worrying about failure and instead find the lesson in it, because that is how we improve year on year.

The profit from dynamic health planning is in the failure, we just need to find it. If stock have died or aborted then we need to know why, so post-mortems are essential. If stock have been sick or underperformed, we need the vet out for diagnostic testing to get a clear understanding of why things didn’t work out (and it changes year on year).

Read more: Benefits of animal health plans highlighted at free workshops

It can feel like good money after bad to investigate problems sometimes, but in the context of dynamic health planning, it’s a critical investment in the future of the business. Often, we will find things we need to monitor better next year when we really think about where things have gone wrong.

Late summer/early autumn is the perfect time to start a Dynamic Health Plan in lots of seasonal systems, and it gets easier and better every year you do it. Set a new target and start again. When we sit down to the banana skin session this time, we have a whole year of lessons learned to work from.