A farmer has issued a plea to dog walkers after one of her calves was killed by Neospora.
Claire Howlett, 32, from Wicton Farm in Herefordshire took to social media to create awareness and begin to ’initiate change’.
The cow which aborted the calf 30 weeks into pregnancy is now infected by Neospora for life, illustrating how the parasite can rapidly have a huge impact on the health of the herd.
In the UK, neosporosis is seen most frequently on farms with dogs, where bedding or forage can become contaminated with faeces.
It is also problematic where grazing fields have public footpaths running through them which are regularly used by dog walkers.
Claire told Farmers Guardian: "I have been impressed with the response on social media following on from our Twitter post.
"People used to let their dogs poo in the street but over the years this has stopped and now everyone picks up after their dog in town.
"There is no reason why this cannot happen in the countryside. Dog owners and walkers should be responsible for picking up after their dog wherever they are - otherwise the cows can eat it and farmers can step in it.
"The dead calf was tested by the vet who confirmed that it was Neospora. This cow is now infected by Neospora for life and the heifer calf that she had last year will also potentially be positive aswell.
"Given that cows are infected for life with Neopsora it is an ongoing problem for us and we have worked hard to control this issue in our herd.
"All cows infected with Nespora are bred to beef so that we do not breed heifer calves that are Neospora positive.
"We have a public footpath running through our farm as well as neighbours and contractors who often run their dogs on our fields. Any dog can potentially be carrying the parasite at any time.
"Given that we have cases of Neospora on the farm - the dogs who come on our land are always at risk of being exposed to it and therefore becoming carriers and infecting not only our cows but also other herds on other farms.
"Picking up after your dog is a simple and effective policy to help stop this disease spreading. You would not leave dog poo on the pavement so why leave it in a field of grass that the cows have to eat?"
Calf killed by Neospora. Our cows abort their calves after they eat grass contaminated with dog poo-If your dog does a poo please pick it up pic.twitter.com/GJXjviLfx0— Wicton Farm (@wictonfarm)
It is possible for cows to be infected with neospora but to show no outward signs of the parasite and many will not abort, depending upon when they picked up the cysts.
This can have serious implications for the spread of disease in the herd as one of the most common methods of transmission is vertical, from dam to daughter.
Dr Richard Knight, Westmorland Veterinary Group director and RCVS Advanced Practitioner in Cattle Health and Production explains: "The older cows are, the less likely it is they will abort, so infection with neospora can go undetected.
"The problem here is if a cow first aborts when having her third calf and neospora is diagnosed as the cause as she may have already infected two heifers who may then go on to abort in the future.”
Dr Knight points to dry cows as the animals most at risk because they are more likely to abort or at least transmit the disease to their offspring if exposed to the parasite at this crucial time.
He says: “Bulling heifers will not abort, obviously, but may become infected and this will set them up for potential problems through their lives. This could be very expensive.
“It is therefore vital to keep dry cows and bulling heifers out of fields with footpaths or public access. If there are many footpaths across a farm, then ideally efforts could be made to educate dog walkers about the risk to animals if they do not clear up after them.
“It is equally important to ensure farm dogs are not a possible risk, so keep them away from feeding areas and do not allow them to wander into calving sheds."
WHAT IS NEOSPORA?
Neosporosis is caused by the coccidian parasite Neospora caninum, which has a wide host range, although the disease is principally seen in cattle. Dogs are thought to be the ‘definitive host’ for the disease.
Excreted N. caninum cysts from dogs are ingested by cattle which then become infected, the condition remaining for life.
Although N. caninum does not cause illness in the cow, the animal has the potential to transmit N. caninum across the placenta to her unborn calf.
This can either trigger abortion or the calf will also become infected if carried to term, thus continuing the cycle.
To date, cow-to-cow transmission has not been seen.
Where neospora has not been identified in a herd, the following measures can be taken to reduce the risk of the disease occurring.