Varied caseload for UFU animal health and welfare committee

The last number of months have been typically busy for members of the animal health and welfare committee.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 7:29 am
Springtime sheep. Picture: Cliff Donaldson
Springtime sheep. Picture: Cliff Donaldson

A vast number of issues have been considered, as well as several complications which have arisen from the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) on 1 January 2021.

As part of a single epidemiological unit with the Republic of Ireland, unsustainable complications in animal movement regulations have been loaded onto the Northern Ireland (NI) producer. The Ulster Farmers’ Union animal health and welfare committee have been working tirelessly to alleviate the restrictions on animal movements into NI from Great Britain (GB).

The gene pool of our breeding cattle and sheep relies on new bloodlines arriving from GB on a regular basis. The committee finds it deeply frustrating that despite having a world leading traceability system, farmers are unable to trade freely in historic markets. Aphis allows full transparency relating to the location of animals within NI and the benefits of this system can surely be used to our advantage in this intolerable scenario.

This is not a one-way movement problem. Consider the movement of livestock to pedigree shows and sales in GB. Since 1 January 2021, any animals returning to NI must now endure a six-month residency period before returning home. This is effectively a fetter on trade with the GB market and contradicts the terms of the NI Protocol.

A further burden of new legislation relating to disease control is just around the corner. The EU animal health law is due to come into effect on 21 April 2021. This detailed piece of legislation has many unknowns in the depths of its existence and remains untold of in Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

(DAERA) circles despite its imminent arrival.

Whilst there has been little noise from our department to date, and no conversation with stakeholders as to how they intend to address its rigorous requirements, the UFU animal health and welfare committee is concerned with the unrealistic asks of some areas of the legislation.

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) remains at the heart of the agenda for all committee meetings. Stakeholders continue to await news of an announcement from ministerial level about the eradication strategy in the future. For two generations, NI farmers have been restricted in their business activities by this disease. Given that the incidence of TB in NI herds remains at eight-point-three percent, a fresh approach is needed from the minister’s strategic announcement.

By contrast, DAERA should look enviously at the gains made by the industry in the reduction of BVD incidence on NI’s farms. Whilst the number of herds containing a BVD positive animal was a much reduced 125 at the beginning of March, 50 percent of these herds had taken action to remove the positive cases from the herd within five weeks. The industry should rightly be concerned about those farms which do not remove BVD positives from their herds.

Given the voluntary slaughter ban in place within NI plants, questions must be asked as to why any farm business retains a calf which tests positive for BVD. Surviving PI animals will be excreting enormous amounts of BVD virus constantly. Every day that a BVD positive animal is on a farm, it presents a risk to other cattle, whether in its own herd or in neighbouring herds.

Some herd keepers omit to test their animals for BVD at birth. The UFU animal health and welfare committee are engaging with DAERA regarding the implementation of legislation for untested animals. The committee advise that all animals should be tagged and tested as soon as possible after birth.

Some optimism looking forward has come for free range poultry producers who are now looking towards exit the housing order which was brought about to reduce the spread of avian influenza. Whilst DAERA are yet to announce the exit date, farmers need to be acting now to prepare their birds for going back to the range. This should include cleansing and disinfection of hard surfaces, fencing off ponds or standing water and reintroduction of wild bird deterrents. 

In addition, when the birds are allowed out, all poultry and captive birdkeepers will need to keep taking extra biosecurity precautions. This includes cleaning and disinfecting equipment, clothing and vehicles, limiting access to non-essential people on their sites, and workers changing clothing and footwear before entering bird enclosures.