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Tackle Johne's or face milk sales uncertainty

Farmers, processors and vets stressed the value of Johne’s control at the Action Johne’s conference. Ann Hardy reports.


Laura   Bowyer

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Laura   Bowyer
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Strong focus on training vets in next phase of plan

The conference was used as the launch pad for Phase II of the National Johne’s Management Plan (NJMP) whose key objective is to reduce the incidence of Johne’s disease in British dairy herds.


The scheme focusses on providing a consistent message to farmers, and has established a training programme through which vets can become BCVA (British Cattle Veterinary Association) Accredited Advisors.


It follows on from Phase I which was established in 2015 with the initial aim of achieving processor engagement, and which had seen 26 purchasers representing around 80 per cent of British milk supply sign up.


However, NML vet, Karen Bond, who oversees the training said: “One of the biggest criticisms we have faced is that farmers get inconsistent advice from vets.”


But a convergence of expert opinion and the industry-coordinated training look set to consolidate that advice. Some 634 vets have registered for the training and 495 have already passed, giving a good network of coverage across the country.


Professor Robert Smith from Liverpool University suggested: “If your vet has not got the answer I suggest you go to a BCVA Accredited Vet for advice.”


Ms Bond said only BCVA accredited vets were authorised to certify a farmer’s Johne’s management plan which would be required by milk purchaser members.


As with Phase I, the new phase of the scheme offers six options for control, any of which the farmer is advised to select in consultation with his vet.


Peter Orpin pointed out testing itself was not essential and added: “Producers are encouraged to use one of the six control strategies based on trained vet advice. The steps could be very simple and cost little to implement.”


A map of BCVA Accredited Advisors can be found at www.actionjohnesuk.org

Dairy producers who fail to take voluntary action against Johne’s disease could find rules to tackle the disease are imposed upon them by their buyer, or fail to sell their milk.


This was one of the strongest messages to emerge from a conference held by the Action Johne’s Initiative held last week in Worcestershire, where delegates learnt some producers had already been removed from their milk pool for their unwillingness to comply.


Both the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group and Barber’s Farmhouse Cheesemakers already had Johne’s reduction schemes in place and Liverpool University’s Professor Robert Smith, representing the TSDG, said farmers who did not want to test had been removed from the pool.


“All milk in Tesco bottles is from Johne’s tested herds,” he said.


Similarly, Anthony Barber confirmed those who signed up to the new Barber’s Assured Contract – sent out to producers earlier this month and offering an extra 1.5p/l for compliance with key criteria – would be removed from that contract if they did not engage in Johne’s control.


“Yes, definitely,” he said in answer to the question. “It devalues the whole process if we tolerate substandard.”


A key driver in the campaign against Johne’s – and in the launch of Phase II of the Action Johne’s Initiative (see panel) – is the potential link between Johne’s disease and human health.


“A lot of research is looking for a link between MAP [Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, the cause of Johne’s disease] and Crohn’s disease in humans,” said NML’s Karen Bond, chair of the Johne’s Technical Group.


However, she said despite the similar symptoms, no link had been established and the emphasis of this initiative was more about economy and producing ‘healthy milk from healthy cows’.

 

Mr Barber also emphasised welfare and economy and said: “With Johne’s you get less milk, poorer fertility, higher cell counts, more mastitis and more lameness - why would you not want to address the disease?”


As an exporter and a producer of infant formula, he said pressure from his customers was inevitable and he wanted to be prepared.


“There is an advantage to us but it is a lot wider than that,” he said. “We would like to see the whole industry moving in the same direction.”


Describing Johne’s as ‘a shocking advert for an industry that is already under pressure’, he added: “People do not need an excuse to cut down on dairy.”


However, preliminary results from the National Johne’s Control Plan Survey suggested many farmers were not engaged in Johne’s control and uncovered some possible reasons.


Pete Orpin from the Park Vet Group, who undertook the survey, said some lacked the facilities to segregate high and low risk cows while there was also uncertainty over when to cull a ‘red cow’ (with two positive tests).


He said: “This is a complex matter and is influenced by the farmer’s attitude, the availability of replacements and the proportion of the herd testing positive.”

However, he said culling was only part of the solution and the right management, hygiene and biosecurity were essential.


Other responses to the survey suggested test results were considered confusing while around 50 per cent of respondents said they were more likely to adopt a control plan if there were financial incentives from their milk processor.


Ms Bond said this was increasingly likely as a momentum now existed which was driving other processors who would want to take part.


“Other processors will ask the same question,” she said. “It is a peer pressure thing; once it starts rolling they will not want to be left behind. By the end of Phase II I hope 95 per cent of milk will be on board.”


Professor Smith referred to impressive progress achieved within the Tesco group and said by November 2016, 97 per cent of TSDG farmers were 99 per cent free of the disease.


Dick Sibley, a member of Action Group on Johne’s technical advisory group, had studied the domestic situation in relation to other countries and said Britain was in a strong position to succeed.


“In the USA, around 90 per cent of milk is from infected farms but in the UK, only 30-40 per cent of herds are infected,” he said. Some other countries’ schemes, which were often more prescriptive, had failed when central funding had been withdrawn but the British industry-led approach, was already showing encouraging signs of success.


However, he warned producers buying in cattle, including from the Continent, to know the testing history of the source herd.


Dairy farmer Lyndon Edwards, chair of the Action Group on Johne’s, admitted progress had been slow since the group first met in 2009, but felt the plan was now building a head of steam.


“There are still carrots out there but I think there could be sticks further down the road,” he said.

The Action Johne’s Initiative is funded by its milk processor members with match-funding from AHDB Dairy.

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