Farmers reminded to prepare for compulsory BVD testing

Wesley Aston, Geraldine McElduff, Ruth Porter and Andrew Kerr.
Wesley Aston, Geraldine McElduff, Ruth Porter and Andrew Kerr.

The UFU would like to remind members that from the 1 March 2016, all herd owners will be required to take part in the ‘Tag and Test’ scheme under the bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) eradication scheme. This legislation makes it compulsory for farmers to tag and test all cattle born on or after that date for BVD.

BVD is a major disease of cattle that causes infertility, abortion or weakly new-born calves and predisposes cattle to other diseases for the remainder of their life which significantly increases vet fees and on farm antibiotic usage.

Additionally, some calves born to infected dams can become persistently infected (PI) and the majority of these animals will die or require prolonged and excessive feeding to ever get them to finishing weight. As such, it is estimated that BVD costs Northern Ireland farmers more than £20 million per year.

The BVD virus is spread when calves become persistently infected as a result of their mother being exposed to the virus during the second to fourth month of pregnancy (or if the mother herself is also a PI). These PI animals are the main source of infection and cause the spread of the disease between and within herds.

The key to eradicating the virus is to identify and remove all PI cattle from the national herd. This can be done cost-effectively by testing ear punched samples collected by farmers as part of the official identity tagging process. Samples must be sent to the laboratory within seven days of being taken and the cost of the test is included in the price of the original tag.

Results will be issued by Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI) via SMS text message, letters or via the AHWNI database which can be found at www.animalhealthni.com. In most cases, calves will test negative. This indicates that both the calf and the dam are not PI animals. Where a BVD positive is returned, there is the option for a farmer to submit a supplementary blood test taken at least 21 days after the initial test.

Additionally, the dam of the calf will also require a follow-up test which should be arranged with your veterinary practitioner. It is in every farmer’s best interest that PI calves and cattle are culled as soon as possible after being identified in order to minimise both the risk to the remainder of your herd and any future financial impact upon your business.

As BVD is a production based disease with no impacts on human health, and any positive animal has an assumed negative value within the herd due to the disease risk to other livestock along with increased veterinary and feeding costs over the animals’ lifetime, DARD has stated that there will be no governmentally funded compensation available to encourage the removal of positive animals.

When looking to sell stock born on or after 1 March 2016 at marts, farmers will be required to produce a valid BVD negative certificate for each animal. These can be downloaded from the AHWNI database.

For those herds that have already managed to successfully eradicate BVD from their farm, purchasing stock represents one of the biggest risks for re-introducing infection. When buying animals born before 1 March 2016, it is recommended that the cattle should be isolated until a post import test has been completed. When buying animals born on or after 1 March 2016 farmers should always ask for the animal’s BVD negative certificate.

A second route of re-infection is through the purchase of pregnant cattle. Pregnant non-PI cattle may be carrying PI calves if they were exposed to BVD virus during early pregnancy. It is best practice to isolate any purchased in-calf heifers or cows until they have calved and the calf has tested negative for BVD virus.

The third major route of re-infection is through contact between animals at farm boundaries. As such, the current legislation requires farmers who have already been part of the voluntary scheme to continue testing for a further three years. It has been demonstrated in the Republic of Ireland that this action is crucial to ensure complete disease eradication.

This action will ensure that all animals within the country have been BVD tested (i.e. even a heifer born on 29 February 2016 will have been tested by her calf born within those three years). Additionally, it will highlight any re-introduction from an infected neighbouring herd and it will also increase the likelihood that if a re-incursion occurs, that no infected calves are inadvertently sold on to another farmer.

At this stage, AHWNI is currently keen to ensure that farmers that took part in the voluntary stage of this scheme are recognised for their efforts in getting the scheme to this point and is seeking ways to recognise herds that have been testing for three or more years and have a high probability of being uninfected. The UFU will continue to press upon this point on behalf of those farmers that made the investment to get the scheme to where it is today.

The UFU also wants to encourage farmers to buy their tags in advance of the compulsory date to ensure that suppliers can cope with the impending demand. Additionally, the UFU wants to warn members of the potential penalties for not complying with the legislation in order to ensure that no members fall foul of the law.

Under the current legislation, anyone found guilty of not testing their animals or knowingly selling a BVD positive animal may face imprisonment for up to one month or receive a fine of up to £5,000 or, in the case of more than five animals, receive a fine of up to £1,000 per animal under the Diseases of Animals Order.

Additionally, anyone found guilty of selling an infected animal may also be in breach of the Sale of Goods Act which could result in further financial penalties. These penalties have been put in place to protect BVD free farms and to ensure that the disease is eradicated within the national herd as quickly as possible.