Experts say Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) can be eradicated in England if farmers take coordinated action. Chloe Palmer reports from the launch of the BVD Free England initiative.
Farmers, vets and industry representatives gathered at Litton View Farm in Derbyshire to hear the details of the BVDFree England initiative, to be launched today (1st July 2016).
England is now following the rest of the UK by adopting a BVD eradication programme which will seek to sign up 90 per cent of cattle farmers in the first 1,000 days.
Dr Richard Booth of the Royal Veterinary College described BVD as ‘a highly contagious infectious disease’ which is estimated to cost the cattle industry £40 million per year. At the farm level, costs are assessed to be around £34 per cow per year.
“BVD can lead to big losses in production, a reduction in milk yield, fertility defects and secondary diseases such as mastitis and pneumonia because BVD is immuno-suppressive. If we can prevent females becoming infected we can stop the creation of persistently infected (PI) animals,” Dr Booth said.
Dr Booth pointed to control programmes across Scandinavia which had taken between ten and 12 years to eradicate the disease, proving it can be done within a reasonable timescale.
Bill Mellor, a pedigree Simmental producer from Hazel Grove near Stockport is chairman of the BVDFree implementation group and also chair of the NFU’s North West livestock board.
Mr Mellor has first hand experience of the effects of BVD and explained the scale of the welfare, economic and emotional impacts of the disease on his own business. All PIs were culled immediately and the farm has been clear of the disease for almost fifteen years.
“We are now a closed herd and since becoming BVD free, our conception rates are now consistently over 70 per cent to AI, and pneumonia and scouring in our calves has almost disappeared. We rarely use antibiotics now.”
“If you have not got BVD, keep it out. If you have got it, get rid of it,” Mr Mellor urged.
Derek Armstrong, lead veterinary science expert for AHDB Dairy acknowledged how Bill Mellor has consistently argued for industry leaders to take action on BVD. Now he points to the initiative backed by over 70 organisations: “Farmers joining BVDFree will report all their BVD testing results to the national BVDFree database and allow their individual animal and herd status to be openly accessible through the database,” said Mr Armstrong.
“Knowing the BVD status of an animal before purchase will mean an end to bringing PIs onto farms and storing up problems for the rest of the herd,” he added.
Mr Armstrong recognised it would be a challenge to reach the target of 90 per cent of farmers engaging in the scheme, referring to the need to engage ‘every vet’s expertise’ to do this.
“Now we want to hand on a generation of cattle which are entirely free of BVD. We can do it because we have seen from other countries it can be done”, Mr Armstrong said.
James Russell, director at McMurtry and Harding Vets in Derbyshire, supports this view and believes the BVD Free initiative ‘offers farmers the opportunity to take control’ of the disease.
Mr Russell said: “52 per cent of farms do not have any evidence of BVD infection and they should be able to add value to their animals by marketing them as BVD free. But they are still at a high risk of BVD reaching their farm so we need to make sure we can help these farmers to avoid being the next victim of the disease.”
Mr Russell highlighted the importance of identifying PI animals, reporting that only one in seven PI animals will lead a normal, healthy life with the remaining six unlikely to thrive. He also warned if farmers have adopted a BVD vaccination programme, they may not pick up the presence of a PI within the herd.
“Information is power with this disease. The more you know about your herd health status when the infection risk arises, the more likely you are to tackle the disease.”
“BVD eradication is achievable and the economic benefits of doing it are substantial. It is an opportunity our cattle industry cannot afford to pass by,” Mr Russell said.
Farmers must agree to the following terms:
To actively engage in BVD control in order to eliminate the disease from the herd
To report all BVD testing results from their herd to the national database
To allow herd status and/or individual animal statuses to be openly accessible through the BVD Free database
Not to move PI animals other than directly to slaughter or through a dedicated red slaughter market
In return they will:
Be able to access the BVD status of tested animals and herds, giving peace of mind when buying in animals
Be eligible to promote their BVD free status once achieved, allowing their herd to be clearly differentiated in the market place