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Farmer Survey shows need for more advice on BVD

Resultsfrom the Farming Against BVD survey were presented by an independent expertpanel at Novartis Animal Health headquarters on 18th September 2014,giving valuable insight into dairy and beef farmers current practices,attitudes and understanding of BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea).


With301 dairy and beef farmers questioned from every region of England and Wales,representing over 70,000 head of cattle, the findings showed an inconsistentapproach to the disease and demonstrated the need for more targeted advice tohelp farmers tackle this complicated disease. 


BVDis a serious, industry wide problem and one that farmers are clearly aware of,with over 70% of respondents having a herd health plan that incorporated BVD saysJames Russell from independent vets McMurtry & Harding. However the surveyreinforced that much work needs to be done in providing practical advice abouthow farmers tackle the virus in their herds.


Whatis deeply concerning is that 49% of farmers questioned had not tested theirherd for BVD in the last 12 months and of those that did, 83% did not go on totest their young stock. So whilst farmers may be aware of BVD, there appears,on this evidence, to be a disconnect between awareness and practical activityin the detection and then eradication of infection from their herd. 



Industry ledresponse to BVD

Whilsteffective vaccination against BVD has been available for the last two decades,the disease continues to cause significant problems in the cattle industry;with infected cattle suffering from abortion, infertility and suppressed immunesystems, leading to poor productivity.


Itwas these issues that stimulated the Farming Against BVD initiative by NovartisAnimal Health in conjunction with the Royal Veterinary College and independentvets McMurtry & Harding


Theproject, aimed at increasing farmer awareness and understanding of the virus, hasbeen driven by a select panel of industry experts, including Professor JoeBrownlie (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Chairman of BVD Scientific andTechnical Working Group), Caroline Dawson (Novartis Professional ServicesVeterinary Surgeon), Tony Brooks (Herd Manager, Brighthams Farm), Dr PeterNettleton (Fellow of the Moredun Research Institute) and James Russell (VetPractitioner, McMurtry & Harding)


The problem of PIs

Oneof the most significant findings of the report was the attitude of farmerstowards testing and subsequent failure to identify Persistently Infected (PI)livestock within their herd. Any calf born from a BVD persistently-infected cowwill be born Persistently Infected with the virus and cannot be cured. As aresult, future vaccination of this animal against the virus is renderedineffective and the affected animal will be a source of the virus, spreadinginfection within the herd.


Withyoung cattle being the source of PIs and reservoirs of infection within aherd, failure to test, identify and then deal with PI livestock represents themost significant problem facing the industry when trying to eradicate BVD.


ProfessorJoe Brownlie from the Royal Veterinary College and current chairman of the BVDScientific and Technical Working Group concurred with this outlook, voicing hisworry that 39% of farmers who found BVD present in their herd did not then goon to test for PIs.

Ofthe 61% of farmers that did do follow up tests for PIs once BVD had beendetected in their herd, one third found one or more PIs within the stockholding.


However,one third of farmers who identified having active BVD infection in their herdthen failed to go on and carry out individual animal testing; of those thatdid, nearly half discovered one or more individual PIs within their herd.


Itjust shows that the disease can be hidden, comments Professor Brownlie, andfarmers could be in the dangerous position of potentially missing PI animalsthat are in their herd; PIs that can continue to spread the BVD virus amongstother cattle and pass on their PI status to any calves they produce. It ishugely important to be thorough and consistent in your testing as part of anagreed herd health plan


Dealing with PIs

Thesurvey also indicates that action needs to be taken to educate farmers aboutwhat to do once BVD and, most significantly, PI’s are discovered amongst aherd.


Thereis much evidence from this survey to encourage the industry in how it istackling this disease, stated Professor Brownlie however there is still agreat need for clear direction.  Thesurvey indicated that 20% of farmers wrongly believe that PI animals willeventually become non-infective and that 25 % believe that calves born of PIcows will not always have PI calves themselves.


Allof these perceptions are incorrect and can lead to reservoirs of the diseasebeing allowed to remain not only within individual herds, but geographicalregions as well; seriously hindering the eradication of the virus in Englandand Wales. 



Understanding BVD

Withnearly half of farmers stating that they talked to vets – their main source ofinformation about BVD – only once or less a year, Professor Brownlie concludedthat it is unsurprising that many farmers did not show a greater understandingof BVD beyond biological side effects present in the infected cattle.


About50% of farmers surveyed were unsure as to what types of tests need to becarried out to detect the infection in their livestock and 32% of respondentswere unaware that correct vaccination of livestock against BVD can protect boththe cow and unborn calf.


Moreover,whilst BVD is still regarded by farmers as one of the top bovine diseases,other health issues such as mastitis and tuberculosis are given much greaterattention. This lack of focus on BVD is exacerbated by the lack of soundinformation of the financial implications of the infection on their herd.


Theside effects of BVD appear to be overlooked in financial terms statedProfessor Brownlie but the infection can severely hinder a herds financialproductivity due to poor health, reduced milk yield and loss of reproductiveefficiency. 


Perhapsby aiding understanding of the financial cost of the virus, we can encouragefarmers to take more proactive steps to combat BVD, concludes Caroline Dawson.As such, I am pleased to announce that that the FAB panel has initiated afollow on project to carry out detailed research with regards to the financialimpact of BVD on farms and is due to report findings in the new year.

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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