Wexford suckler producer experiences BVD nightmare

Vet practitioner Thomas O'Shea, right, checking yearlings for suckler producer Paul Barden, who had only 12 calves survive from 53 scanned in calf cows due to BVD caused by a bought-in PI heifer.
Vet practitioner Thomas O'Shea, right, checking yearlings for suckler producer Paul Barden, who had only 12 calves survive from 53 scanned in calf cows due to BVD caused by a bought-in PI heifer.

Wexford suckler producer Paul Barden has been through a living a nightmare after a bought-in heifer brought devastation to his herd.

Of those cows that calved down this past year 70% of their calves died or were put down.

The end result was that from 53 cows put in calf Paul was left with just 12 calves alive!

Paul, who farms near Adamstown, some 12 miles east of New Ross, has been running a suckler herd since 2003 and calved 50 cows in 2013. These calves were all tissue tagged and found negative for BVD.

Being very conscious of disease prevention Paul has all cows vaccinated against leptospirosis, salmonella and scour and also had an IBR vaccination strategy in place. Because he ran a closed herd Paul felt no need to vaccinate against BVD and thought all the biggest risks to the enterprise had been weighted up and dealt with.

However, in the summer of 2015 this progressive Wexford farmer bought in eight heifers and the BVD horror story began.

“I noticed one heifer was not thriving as well as the rest, but had no reason to suspect there was anything seriously wrong with her,” Paul explained.

That September when 53 animals were scanned in calf, including the bought-in heifer Paul had little reason to be worried. But everything changed when the cows started to calve in 2014. Paul tells the gruesome story:

“It was an absolute nightmare. Forty cows calved – the rest had lost the calves since scanning, including the bought-in heifer, which was now empty come calving time. Of the 40 calves born, we finished up with 12 animals that lived.

“Some were born dead or died immediately after birth. Over 20 lived but got pneumonia and scour and anything else you could think of. With a lot of help from my vet, Thomas O’Shea of Moyne Veterinary Clinic, we tried to keep them alive but they failed to respond to all treatments. They were in a shocking state.

“In the end, I agreed with Thomas that the only option was to put them down. Out of over 50 cows that went to the bull the previous spring, we finished up with 12 calves. The 29 that died or were put down were all PIs.”

Vaccination

When the first signs of the impending disaster began to appear farm vet Thomas O’Shea blood tested all breeding stock. The suspect bought-in heifer tested as a PI and she was, of course, immediately removed from the farm.

The cows that did not produce a calf were sold. All remaining breeding stock were then given a primary and booster vaccination with Bovilis BVD in advance of last year’s breeding season. Annual BVD vaccination is now a rigid part of his animal health programme.

Paul was forced to buy in 28 weanlings last autumn “in order to keep up numbers.” The number of cows calving this year has dropped to under 40, a mixture of Salers, Limousin and Hereford crosses. However, the aim is to get back up to calving 50 cows and selling their progeny as forward stores or beef.