Defra Farming podcast

Martin Jenkins, Karen Halton, James Russell - Improving animal health and welfare on your farm

March 08, 2024 Defra
Martin Jenkins, Karen Halton, James Russell - Improving animal health and welfare on your farm
Defra Farming podcast
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Defra Farming podcast
Martin Jenkins, Karen Halton, James Russell - Improving animal health and welfare on your farm
Mar 08, 2024

Defra Animal Health and Welfare lead Martin Jenkins talks to North West dairy farmer Karen Halton and vet James Russell about the support that is available from government to help livestock farmers drive down disease and improve animal health and welfare on their farms.

Guidance for farmers and apply now - Guidance for farmers - Annual health and welfare review of livestock (

AHDB material for vets - What is the Annual Health and Welfare Review? | AHDB

Show Notes Transcript

Defra Animal Health and Welfare lead Martin Jenkins talks to North West dairy farmer Karen Halton and vet James Russell about the support that is available from government to help livestock farmers drive down disease and improve animal health and welfare on their farms.

Guidance for farmers and apply now - Guidance for farmers - Annual health and welfare review of livestock (

AHDB material for vets - What is the Annual Health and Welfare Review? | AHDB

Martin Jenkins, Defra 
Hello and welcome to the Defra Farming Podcast. I'm Martin Jenkins and I work in Defra leading on animal health and welfare policy. Today we're talking about the help from government that farmers can get with animal health and welfare and how it works alongside the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) as part of building long term resilience for your farm.  

So I'm delighted to be joined today by 2 guests, dairy farmer Karen Halton and vet James Russell. So Karen and James, would you like to say a few words? Introduce yourself, tell us about your background and how you farm or work in farming.  


Karen Halton, Farmer 
Hello, everybody. I'm Karen. I've been farming since about 2009, so still quite new to farming really, dairy farming, because I married into farming. So my background was as director of a legal recruitment consultancy in London. So I did something very different. But I did have horses, so I was used to being outside and keeping horses, and married and came home to work in 2009, so took on, we've got 500 ProCROSS cows and about 260 followers.  

So I came in looking after calves to start with, getting all the young stock side of things shipshape. And now I have 2 people that help me with that because I do a lot of stuff in the office now, dealing with lots of Defra paperwork [laughter]. And we're in the Congleton in Cheshire. 

Thanks, Karen.  

And James? 

James Russell, Vet 
Thank you, Martin. I graduated from the Royal Vet College and spent all of my clinical career as a farm vet in mixed practice. So I was used to the out-of-hours dog emergency as well as farming. I'm speaking to you today from where I currently work, which is the University of Nottingham, where I’m involved with teaching the next generation and hopefully enthusing them. My interest through my time in practice became infectious disease, and management of infectious disease on-farm, and I’ve been able to carry some of that on with what I've done in both Nottingham but also through my work with you, Martin, at Defra and the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, and also [Defra’s] TB [Tuberculosis] Partnership and one or two other initiatives that I’ve been involved with. 

Great. So let's get on to our subject for today, so animal health and welfare. The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway is made up of 3 pillars. The first one is about financial incentives for farmers, which is probably most of what we'll talk about today. Another is trying to encourage people to pay the right kind of market value for high-welfare and high-health products. And the third is about raising that baseline and really improving the standards to which everyone is farming, and the health and welfare of animals on farms.   

More broadly, we've been tailoring our offer to farmers. So that's all been about co-design. So work absolutely in partnership with farmers and vets and academics, not just in what this policy looks like, but really designing it from the ground up. 

James, you've been involved in that since pretty much the start. Perhaps you'd like to share some of your experiences? 

Yeah, they would be broadly very positive experiences, Martin, and I think one of the things that I’ve really taken away from this is on occasion it’s felt like we've had to circle around issues a number of times before we've arrived at the eventual sort of landing point. But in hindsight I can't think of a time that that's happened where we haven't ended up with something which has been more representative of the conversations that have gone into it.  

And I’ve been really struck in the 5 or so years that I've been involved in supporting the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway with various different hats on, the range and the number of different people that we've had involved from farming communities, from veterinary communities, from enforcement communities, from the civil service communities, and it has really felt like a genuine co-design, as it said on the tin. 

And I think, you know, that's been played up to us a couple of times, this, we've gone out on to farms with this quite early in our testing of the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, we got a comment from a farmer, which I think you reported to us, Martin, “I don’t know who set this up, but they obviously know a thing or 2 about farming.” 

And I think to hear that about something which has come out and, you know, with a government stamp on it ultimately, has got to be a really positive starting point and quite different to a lot of things that have come out in the past. 

Yeah, I’d agree as well, because, I mean, I, I forgot to say before, as I introduced myself, I also contribute to the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway programme from a farmer perspective. So I was invited on to do that. I think I've been on that since about 2021. I also contribute on the Cattle Antibiotic and Guardian Group. 

And I need to tell you as well, I'm also a council member of the RABDF, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, which is really important because it's great for me to have a part of this and be able to feed that back into different organisations. And one thing, when I got involved with this, I was a little bit pessimistic because when I came home to work, it was, “Oh, Defra, they’re all part of the government and all they’re ever after is making life hard and giving us loads of paperwork and red tape, they don't actually work with us, they work against us. So that was always kind of the old fashioned consensus. So I went into this sort of with my eyes open and just not really expecting a great deal. 

But I thought, I can't complain about something I'm not going to get involved in… If I'm not prepared to get involved and try and change it, or at least have my say. I can have my say, and if they don't take that on board, then that's fine. But I've got to say, I've been really, really pleasantly surprised how much information in this group I've been giving and it's been taken on board, I've been so chuffed with it because I feel like we've got a voice and we have actually been listened to, and I think it really works.  

For me, one of the big bits that's come out there is around, you know, what a visit looks like, what a vet visit looks like for an Animal Health and Welfare Pathway visit and, you know, I think as a veterinary profession, as well as potentially a farming profession, we've been used to, you know, there being certain boxes that need to get ticked and, you know, a very kind of formulaic approach and it’s both liberating but also slightly scary sometimes, I think, for vets and farmers undertaking these visits to realise that actually there is a bare minimum really that we need to get back in terms of recording, you know, the fact that we've done a biosecurity plan, the fact that we've done some endemic disease testing, and the fact that we've kind of made some priorities for the farm. 

But beyond that, there's just that acceptance that the farmer and the vet know best what it is that they need to talk about and how best they need to set some priorities for the farm for the year that is ahead of them. And, I say, it's slightly scary but hugely refreshing and really encouraging, I think, to see that level of autonomy being given out to the kind of farmer-vet relationship level and encouraged and supported, I think, by Defra. 

It's almost like they've handed the power back, if you like. It's like going back to the floor. The people on the ground and the people on the floor know what's needed, and that's if you've got a relationship with your vet, a good relationship with your vet, your vet knows what you need in your business and on your farm to help with anything to do with disease, especially.  

And what I was really surprised with, again, like you said, James, how flexible it can be. So, you know, at the moment I'm focusing very much on BVD [Bovine Viral Diarrhoea], but I know there's a big outbreak of Bluetongue coming over the sea and we're kind of like, “ Oh, there's Bluetongue in the country, is it going to move up the country?” You know, but I know we can be fairly flexible on that because, okay, we're having that chat about BVD today, but if we need sort of, as this year goes on, to be discussing more about Bluetongue, I know I can do that as part of this money. You know, at the end of the day, Defra gave us some money to be used to deal with endemic disease and looking at our biosecurity. 

Who would not want to take that? You know, we've had to do, I've had to fill in a form online, which I think, that application, I did it a little while ago, and it probably took me about 5 minutes, and I couldn't believe how easy that process was. The vets had done their report, they put their report in and literally that money went into my bank account. 

That was so quick and easy and simple, and even, I know I’d been involved in the co-design of it all, and I’d been on that journey and I’d heard the words that were uttered in the rooms and on the Zoom meetings and the Teams meetings we’ve had, but I still was, “Oh my God, that really was that easy.” Yeah, for me, it’s been brilliant, and who wouldn’t want to do it. Health is wealth. Surely we all know that. If your animals are healthy, so’s your bank account. 

So Karen, we'll put a link to how to apply for the Annual Health and Welfare Review by the podcast [Guidance for farmers - Annual health and welfare review of livestock (], but you've done one. How was it? What should farmers expect? 

It's really easy, really, basically, you're having a conversation with your vet, you’re having a walk round your farm, you're looking at your biosecurity. So in my case, because I was doing BVD and I was more focusing on BVD, I was just running over my biosecurity and what we do. Is there anything we could improve? 

Just double checking things, which is always a great thing to do. We tested some calves, we looked at some, a little bit of historical information as well. I remember going through some of our old BVD stuff but then sort of really just looking forward as if we were going to, what would we do if we were going to change something? 

Is there anything we could improve on? So it really is, it's more of just like an overview and a conversation and just a bit of investigative work, and just, just really, you know, okay, I already do the BVD thing, so I've done it for years and I love doing it because it makes me feel safe, and I know I’m doing something that's really good for my animals and the health of my animals. 

So say I was asking my vet to come on because I've been offered this bit of money and I could use this time up, and I don't already look at BVD on my farm, then obviously that's going to be a little bit different because we'd be looking at something completely from scratch and I would be getting educated, maybe, I would be getting an understanding. The great thing is, as well, it's a great time to ask a question if you think it's, you know, should we all know, as farmers, should we know everything about BVD? No, we shouldn't. 

We've got 101 things going on every day, so we can't, you know, know about everything. So, you know, it's just a great time to sit down and say, “Right, okay, I don't really understand BVD. What is it? What's it all about? And then when you get to understand it and learn about it, you realise it's something you've really got to do. So it's just a great time to have that time with your vet to find out. If you don't already know a lot about it, use the time to learn and understand what BVD is, what Bluetongue might be if it's coming. You know, if you’re living near any areas, have that time to understand it.  

You might be 20-30 miles away, but know that if we don't get some good hard frost and kill some of those midges, I mean, I don't know, James might say different, it might be a bit more in-depth than that, but, you know, if you’re feeling a bit concerned or worried and you think it's coming your way, get on the phone to your vet and have a review, then click on the link that Martin's going to put on with our podcast and go on to find out then about how you claim the money for that review. 

Thanks, Karen. So we've been talking about the Annual Health and Welfare Review and it's great to hear how easy it is to apply and to receive the money once it's done, and how flexible it can be on farm and tailored towards your needs and the needs of your farm. Obviously that's going to lead on to other forms of support. 

So there are Animal Health and Welfare grants available. So capital grants both for small items and larger items, and then of course will also be moving on to endemic disease control programmes, really, to tackle BVD in cattle, PRRS [Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome] in pigs, and a broader set of health programmes for sheep. What are the things that you're both looking forward to in terms of what comes next on the pathway, and what are your expectations?  

I wonder if I could kick off on that and perhaps pass on to you, Karen, as I know you've got a really powerful personal testimony around some of this. And, you know, as a vet with an interest in infectious disease on-farm, it's always been frustrating to me that as a country we've been so slow to move on things like BVD, and other endemic diseases as well. 

I'm not sure that we’d ever get our farming populations to behave in the way the Swiss did, of, you know, just stopping all movements while they'd sampled every animal for BVD and eradicating PIs [Persistent Infections] over a couple of hits. And I'm not sure we should ask for that from our farming communities either. But I think what we do need to recognise is, you know, I've received quite a bit of criticism for, from vets, saying, you know, you've picked on a disease here which I was already controlling with my farmers, they're already on top of BVD and, you know, it strikes me that one of the biggest risk factors for finding BVD on your farm is testing for it.  

And we know how easily it can sneak back in from when you think you've got on top of it, which is why it's so important that when we think about biosecurity for these endemic diseases, we think more broadly than the farm gate and the farm hedges and fences, and we're actually thinking as counties and potentially as a nation. 

And so that's what I’m really enthused by, there's a future of farming which doesn't have to keep looking over its shoulder at some of the endemic diseases that have put pressure on us, and, I don't know, Karen, if you want to pick up the baton on that with your story. 

Yeah, sure, because… so I'm somebody who has always had fabulous biosecurity controls put in place, and we take all of that sort of stuff really, really seriously. I’ve done the BVD-Free England programme, I've been on it for years, we tag and test, we do everything to keep our animals as healthy as we possibly can. 

So I'd been doing all of that and I'd been talking to our vet, Mark, about stuff. And we’d done a little period where we'd stopped tagging and testing for a little while because we were like, clear, you know, BVD free, and I think you can go into a bit of a thing there, you get a cohort of heifers or something, and test so many over so many months. 

Anyway, we went back onto it because Mark had come out and we’d had a chat about this, my vet, and I said, you know what, we're going to just tag and test everything again, we’re going to go for it, just period, we're never going to stop. Let's keep doing it.

Anyway, we found last year we had 3 PIs in the end, they happened to be bull calves, and we just, I don't know, you just think because you've been BVD free and you’re testing your bulk tank, you're always looking and just keeping your eye on it, and there I have 3 pop-ups, it was over about 3 months. We got the first 2 quite quickly, then there was nothing, and then this other one appeared. I was like, “Blooming heck.” We tested the dams. Nothing. Now you have to also remember, I have, like, so you've obviously got vets coming on farm, I know my vets are brilliant, they scrub down. 

I watch them do it by the car, they’re absolutely brilliant. I have an AI man, he comes on, he walks and talks. Again, he's really good with his biosecurity. Because I noticed, I started scrutinising and watching people very closely, and then I realised, we started going through everything, we looked back and we actually did Open Farm Sunday last year, so I had over a thousand people on the farm and I don't ever want anybody to be put off doing it.  

Don't let it put you off doing it, because it's an amazing thing to do, Open Farm Sunday, and you know, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But, you know, we can't say it definitely was that, but it's highly likely, you know, I had all those people walking around. And I sell my calves at market, and to be able also to sell them saying they’re BVD-free because I'm tagging and testing, that does give a bit of an uplift on the price because we vaccinate for other things, we've got them BVD-free, so you know, that's a massive help, so for me, I also feel I've got a duty of care as well. 

When I sell those calves into somebody else's farm, I feel that it's my duty to make sure that they go BVD-free and as healthy as possible. The other thing is, we have got to keep monitoring it, it isn’t one of those things you go, “Oh, yeah, I'm BVDfree, and then you take your foot off the gas. 

You can't ever take your foot off the gas with any of it, because then when that one crept in, I had to actually put that animal down, and then the next one and the next one, and that was the most heartbreaking thing to do, to put what on the outside looks like an absolutely perfectly healthy animal or calf, and then to have to pull it out of a pen and euthanise it, is one of the most soul-destroying, and it was always, I remember the first one we had to do, it was the one that, when you walked in the pen, it ran up to you, it had to be that one that ran up to you, looking really happy, kicking around the pen, and we were just like, “No, we can't do it.” And we had to, we had to take it round the corner out of the way of all the others and euthanise it. It was horrific. So, you know, for me, you can never stop looking. You can never stop talking about it. Somebody’s paying us to talk about it and look at it. We've got to take that money and do it. 

I think this is one of the things we heard really strongly, Karen, all of us, when we were co-designing this, was that there aren't any farms that can't benefit from a bit more time talking about health, talking about welfare, you know, that trusted relationship between the farmer and the vet. You've also both mentioned how flexible and bespoke the offer is and, Karen, the importance of the farmer picking the right focus for their farm. Is there anything else you wanted to say on that? 

It's just really important because you get paid to have that time with your vet to find what you need to focus on. So they're the expert. You know, James is an expert in finding issues and finding solutions to put them right. So somebody coming in, our vet coming in and having a look, and we sit down and look at our pinch points and our problems, you know, that vet is the qualified person to say, right, this is what we need to do and this is how we're going to do it, and then we work together and do it. But his time's paid for to do that. 

And your time with your vet, was that spent sitting around a table looking at countless forms or was it walking the farm, looking at the animals? 

No, it was walking, it was walking the farm, and we do as a team approach as well. So the herd manager is involved, and the head of young stock is involved, and, you know, we all get together and talk about everything as a whole. And don't get me wrong, I've always… we're very proactive and do that anyway. We do a lot of staff training, you know, the vet comes up, so we will use our vet more for consultation than we do treatments, which is a lovely position to be in, but you can’t ever take that for granted. 

So it's always an ongoing thing. You know, when I had that last year, I had £372-worth of time with my vet paid for, to focus on. So we were probably focusing on more nitty gritty stuff that we might… if we were doing the everyday and just like, he’s here doing a PD [Professional Development] session, then we're just like, “ Oh gosh, look at this,” so, you know, we're just having a bit of a chat. But that just, I don't know, it makes you sit down and go, “Right, well, we've been given the money. We've got to use it properly,” as well. 

And James, that's a massive role for the vet here, which I think is what we'd expect. But it just goes to show how critical, how the vet approaches this is going to be, in terms of how effective it is on-farm. 

Absolutely, and I think, you know, I would encourage any colleagues who are listening to this to really take the opportunity which is being presented to have that really quality time with your clients. And it's interesting, in a slightly parallel life, I undertake quite a few TB Advisory Service visits, and it always struck me, when I went and did a TB Advisory Service visit on a farm that I’ve been visiting for a few years, as their regular fertility vet or something, the number of new things that I saw when I just actually had the opportunity to step back and get a much more comprehensive oversight of the farm.  

You could argue, probably rightly, that I should have been more inquisitive when I was there on some of the other other visits, but time is against you in those situations and so, to be presented with that opportunity is fantastic. And, you know, I’ve been deliberately trying to tee Karen up a little bit with talking about cattle, but, you know, we could make some very similar observations here about sheep units and particularly I know, one of the ones that has caused a little bit of a question, over the time we've been trying to push the pathway out over the last year, has been around the worm treatment check in sheep. 

I wonder if it would be okay just to put a couple of myths to bed really on that, Martin, because one of the myths has become that you can only therefore engage in the pathway if you've got a worm problem. Absolutely not the case, you know. We need to have a bit of lab data that goes alongside the pathway visit. Really it’s just part of the kind of evidence that we said we'd provide on the farm, but absolutely we don't need to have a worm problem in order to do that. 

And similar to Karen's story of BVD there, a farm that was really well on top of the problem, really knew where it was at, and then a small chink in the armour potentially allowed disease back in. You know, on the point of worm challenges and worm burdens again, it's been a really dynamic thing, different year to year, different field to field, different month to month, and across farms. 

So, you know, I would challenge almost anyone really, I think, to be able to say, yeah, we’ve got a complete map of where all of our worm challenges are, all of our parasite challenges are, we know exactly what the strategy is there for every field, every month of the year, and that's not going to change. You know, most people have that in place now and it's not going to change, I think is the bit where, I think, you know, this is an ongoing process and we just need to keep engaging and keep engaging. 

And actually, if you are one of those farmers who has all of that knowledge already about their farm and about the parasite burdens on their farm, brilliant, because I can promise you, you're a long way ahead of a lot of sheep farms, and so if doing this sort of worm treatment check as a farmer becomes your first introduction to the idea of sustainable parasite control then there’s a win which is brilliant not just for you, but also potentially for all your neighbours, anyone who's going to buy stock from you, and so on, you know, as we try and think more holistically, as I've already said, let’s start thinking about disease as a country and not just something I don't want, but I don't mind if my neighbour has got it. Yeah, this is really part of the process of pulling up the health and welfare of our national herds and national flocks. 

Thanks, James. Absolutely. I think, you know, we've talked about the flexibility offered by the review, but actually it's the testing where there are a few more rules that come into play, as I think we'd all expect. 

I think that’s somewhere where I'd really encourage farmers and vets to read the guidance. It's not overly long. It shouldn't take too much time, but it's really worth going through to make sure the right sort of testing is happening with the right selection of animals and also being sent off to the right laboratories as well. There's a few rules on there so I'd really recommend people take a look at the guidance, and make sure you've applied for your Annual Health and Welfare Review before you go off and do your testing. There's a lot of flexibility once you get going, but you do need to have applied first. 

Martin, I wonder if it would be cheeky to put a plug in here to say, if we've got farmers listening to this and they're not sure whether their vets are very au fait with all of those rules, where they're actually saying, have you been away and had to look at the videos on the AHDB [Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board] website that tell you about how to apply, and how to do the test to make sure you have a successful pathway visit. I wonder whether farmers could ask vets that question. 

Absolutely, James, and we can put a link [What is the Annual Health and Welfare Review? | AHDB] to that alongside the podcast.  

Karen, you spoke a little bit earlier about your experiences applying for a review. What was your main motivation to apply? It sounds like you're really on top of biosecurity. You're really on top of working closely with your vet. What was your motivation? 

One of my motivations was because I didn't think it could be that simple. And if I was going to have to talk to people about it after sitting on the pathway for so long, it seemed a bit crazy that I wasn't doing it myself and I wasn't trialling it myself to see if it really was that simple. And because we do do so much stuff, something like that comes out on offer, you don't actually think about taking it because you’re already doing everything. 

So you kind of think, “But I do that anyway, so, you know, I've already paid and yeah, okay, well then…” Well, no, because, maybe I haven’t focused on BVD, I just happened to at that point, I could have focused on something else that I might not put as much time and energy into, but a main driver was, “This is crazy, everybody's entitled to it.” We've also got to take it up because if we don't use it, we will lose it. So at the moment we've said we're going to have it for 3 years. Well, if as farmers, we don't start to use this money that's being offered, then in 3 years time, are we going to get it offered again? I don't know. 

So if it's there, you know, we've got to use it. We've got to look like we want it and we want to do these changes and improvements. We want to be the best in the world for all sorts of reasons, for protection of our industry and for protection of exporting goods. You know, if we can say we've got all these things and we're the best at it, then surely that opens so many more markets for us. 

I think that's absolutely right, Karen. I think we've all said before that, actually, we want there to be next things on the pathway, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, but the best way to get to those next things, even if what's here at the moment isn’t maybe at the top of your list, the best way to get there is to engage with what's available now, use it, show it works, work really closely and effectively, whether you're a farmer or a vet. 

Yeah, sorry to butt in, Martin, but we'll get more back going forward, won’t we? And we'll be getting more things offered to us if we're going to take it up. Yeah, I just think it's also, sitting at that table. I just feel I've got an opportunity to help shape and influence something, rather than Defra telling me what to do. I've got an opportunity to try and change that path a bit as a farmer so that they’re actually doing something that I feel is right for me or for my industry. 

Well, I think that's exactly what we're trying to put right at the middle of how we're working, which is practical things that vets and farmers, academics are telling us will work on the ground, then we go out and we try them and, when they work, we do more of them. I think that's really the answer here, isn't it? 

Yeah, absolutely. 

In terms of what comes next on the pathway, why is the pathway so important as we move forwards, not just in the next few years, but in many years to come? 

Well, for me, as an industry, we've got to keep growing and evolving and getting better. We've got Net Zero things coming at us and, you know, we've got to be able to get to certain levels at certain time frames, and again to keep up with the rest of the world. It's what's being asked of us, and so as an industry, as an agricultural industry, we can't stop. So we've got to keep pushing forward and finding new ways. 

Yes, I’d agree with that, yeah. And I go back to the comments that were made by Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State of, you know, the UK has the highest standards of animal health and welfare in the world. And, you know, as someone who's worked as a farm vet for a good number of years, I would agree a lot of our farms have got superb animal health and welfare standards. They have. 

I think any of us who've worked on farms would have to also acknowledge that there are farms where we'd rather not be an animal. And actually something like the pathway which takes us to the position, as Karen has said, where we achieve more from less in terms of carbon usage, we're able to think about the role that agriculture plays, in a really positive way, in a future which sees ever increasing demands of our environmental stewardship. 

And we can do that in a way which means that we can be really proud of the food that we’re producing on UK farms. And I would also point to the fact that food security has crept up a lot of people's agendas over the last couple of years, as we've seen, I would say, unsettled times on the far edges of Europe, and that's a huge kind of disservice to the horrors that are going on at the moment. 

But the impact in terms of food security here, I think people are thinking about that in a way which perhaps we haven't, and since, going right back to perhaps the end of rationing, really, thinking that, you know, food would just always be coming at us. So we've all got a really positive part to play in that. I'm really proud to be part of UK agriculture and the pathway helps to shine a light on what can be really good and really positive about UK agriculture. 

We've talked a lot about improving the health and welfare of animals on farms, but actually we've touched on quite a few other things, as well, that sometimes it's easy to forget that go absolutely alongside that. Food production you just mentioned, James, healthier animals produce more food. Karen, you also mentioned Net Zero and actually the significant impact we can have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from healthier, more productive animals. 

But then there's also the way we use medicines, so lower antibiotic use, making sure that antibiotics continue to work on both animals and humans in the future, as well as our international trade, and of course, the productivity of animals and the livelihood of vets. There's really no one on earth whose life isn't touched by improving how we produce food and how we improve the health and welfare of our animals. 

Yeah, without a doubt. Without a doubt. And it's just fantastic to see farming communities coming together to say we're going to take this nettle and really grasp it, because we weren’t in a great place and we're in a much improved place now. And we bank those gains and move forward and continue to build on them in terms of health and welfare, where things like our endemic disease programme come into play. 

And it’s all part of the bigger picture, it’s education, isn't it? You know, we've got to keep educated, just like we have to sometimes talk to the public about how we do things and why we do things and what we're going to do. You know, vets have got to talk to their farmers as to how we can be better farmers as well. 

And the vets are going out there, learning all this information about antibiotics and what we can use, can't use, what's going to do what for us, then, you know, they've got to bring that back to farm and help to make us better farmers. And going back to, you know, we've got a lot of people we're going to have to feed, haven’t we? You know, in another 10, 20, 30 years, there are a lot of people that are going to need feeding.  

But we're actually losing land because we're turning a lot of it to rewilding, to wild bird seed and flowers and things, and then we're also putting solar panels on land, plus we've got to build housing. So we are going to have to work to get much more from less. So we're going to have less land to get more food. So we have got to be far more efficient and even better and better at it to keep our animals healthier and healthier to provide that food for us. 

So we've talked about endemic disease control. So obviously support for that is going to become available in early summer [2024], which I know we're already looking forward to. So it’d be great to hear about your experiences as that comes in, you know, both in terms of applying and of going out and delivering it and using that support in practical terms. 

 What would you like to see in the future of the pathway may be as we move beyond endemic diseases or those endemic diseases? 

I get why we do the disease thing because I think the disease thing is probably the most important to deal with at the moment. I think going forward, I think if we can still use it for training and education later on, we're never going to get on top of every disease, and I think as, you know, we're getting better and better with BVD, with Johne's, with so many things, next minute we've got Bluetongue on its way, as we talked about earlier. 

So that's a disease coming at us now that, if we get, you know, if it does come across the country, then yeah, we're going to have to focus on that. So there's always going to be something, but later on, can we use it more for just normal farm stuff like foot trimming, you know, foot disease. And can we use it for mastitis? Can we use it for all these other things to make us even more excellent at what we do? 

I think where I’d agree with you, Karen, is the need to remain slightly agile is what this way of trying to get funding onto farms does. And Bluetongue is a really good example of that where we're learning all the time about things that might or might not be helpful and we need to remain agile enough that we can keep iterating the funding options that are available as we learn more. 

But Martin, I would slightly dodge your question, because I would say I don't think we know yet, because I don't think we’ve had the conversation with all of the stakeholders that brought us to here, to take us on that next stage of that journey. And it would be a real shame, wouldn’t it, if we got so far with co-design and then, you know, you and me in a darkened room kind of cooked up the next 5 years, that feels like we’ve done a real disservice to the time, effort and the energy that’s gone into getting us where we are now. 

So I think what I would say I’m looking forward to for the future of this is having those conversations and finding out where are those next priorities? Where are the next really big wins for taking us forward? 

Yeah, definitely. And just talking as well, we talked about flexibility and that's probably a word that not many farmers will relate to when we're talking about Defra. Let's be honest, farmers never, ever think of Defra as being flexible. And I remember, when we launched that large grant for the calf housing, and I remember I spoke to a few people and they were like, “Oh no, no, we’re not putting up new calf housing. It’s no good for us because we can’t afford to put a new shed up.” And I even have to go back and check the blueprint myself, the small print, because it was also for upgrades on calf housing, and also making improvements. 

I think we've been so used to Defra saying, you know, you start working through the wording, and it's not in sort of farmer layman terms anyway. And it seems, also, sort of strict and professional that you don't think possibly they'd ever want to help us with just upgrading a building, it's only if we get a new one. And it isn’t, Defra's getting flexible. I'll probably get shot down when I walk out on the street tomorrow, but I think you are, you guys are getting a little bit more flexible and with-it, and understanding that one size doesn't fit all. 

I think that goes across everything we're trying to do on the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway. There's all this support that we want to make sure is offered and improving standards even further over time. But actually a real shift in the relationship between how we work with the farming industry, which I think is hopefully demonstrated by how involved you've both been and others in working out the policy from the ground up. And I think that goes across everything we're trying to do with this kind of agricultural transition that's happening at the moment. 

We're far more powerful if we work together. 

Absolutely. And it's much more likely to work, which is ultimately what we all want to do and certainly what taxpayers want to get for their money.   

Well, Karen and James, thank you for your time today. It's been great to talk to you. And I hope it'll be useful to farmers who are thinking about applying for help with their animal health and welfare and their Sustainable Farming Incentive this year. 

Thank you. Thanks for having us. One last thing from me just to every farmer. Just remember, health is wealth. Healthy animals definitely put money in your bank. 

And thank you to our listeners. If you'd like to subscribe to our podcast, you can get it wherever you normally get your podcasts from. And if you want to follow the Defra Farming and Countryside Programme in more detail, you can follow us on our blog 

Thank you very much for listening and thank you again to our guests for coming along today. 

Ah brilliant, thank you. It's been really good. 

Thanks for having us on, Martin. It's been great to chat.