National BVD survey reveals room for improvement on NI farms

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The third annual National BVD Survey has revealed that there is room for improvement on Northern Ireland farms.

The survey took place in January and attracted more responses than ever before with over 1,200 completed survey forms from beef and dairy farmers across the UK.

Beef farmers made up 44% of respondents and dairy producers 56%.

Regional breakdown (see graph 1)

q 164 responses from Welsh farmers

q 330 responses from Scottish farmers

q 237 responses from Northern Irish farmers

q 488 responses from English farmers.

Designed to continue to gain a national picture of farmers’ understanding of BVD, its impact, consequences and spread, this year’s survey was the first to reflect each of the national BVD eradication programmes.

“Through close working relationships with regional policy makers, it became obvious that questions that were relevant to a producer in Scotland who is almost eight years into an eradication scheme were not appropriate for someone in Wales, where the scheme is in its first year,” explains Boehringer Ingelheim’s Matt Yarnall who co-ordinated the project.

The retention of PIs (persistently infected animals) seems to be one of the main areas of concern, with a large number of farmers saying that they regret holding onto PIs, which no-one should be doing.

“PIs are a reservoir of infection never maturing as they should, and also shed virus throughout their lives infecting herdmates,” Mr Yarnall explains. “Although the numbers were small, producers in all parts of the UK still said that they try to rear PIs to slaughter or sell them, which could go some way to explain how come BVD breakdowns are still occurring.”

Undertaking tag testing and investing in a BVD vaccine would cost less than £10/cow/year. With the financial benefit of being free of BVD being over £90/cow/year the return on investment can be significant.

When asked how BVD had affected their herds in the past, the most common response was a reduction in herd fertility, closely followed by a high level of disease in calves.

“In Northern Ireland, where PI retention has been in the news, there seemed to be some conflict as a third of farmers claimed to have never identified a PI, yet research suggests the majority of herds have come across BVD.

“At the same time, around 12% of respondents said they had kept a PI, sometimes rearing it to slaughter,” Mr Yarnall adds. “When asked why, answers ranged from stating that the animal looked healthy, having previously successfully reared a PI to slaughter and being advised to by another farmer.”

In order to assist Northern Irish policy makers, who suspected that the area of PI retention could be confused and unclear, a question was added to establish what would encourage farmers to dispose of PIs. Equal first were having ‘herd restrictions when PIs were retained’ and ‘the implementation of a PI removal financial support scheme’.

The 2017 survey data showed that 71% of users of the BVD vaccine that requires a six monthly booster were inadequately protecting their animals by failing to administer boosters at the right time.

“In light of this, it is perhaps cause for alarm that this year 85% of farmers haven’t restarted a vaccination course when the majority should have done,” comments Mr Yarnall. See graph 2.

“This can be a costly exercise and to alleviate this issue, many vets now favour the use of the one-shot, annual BVD vaccine Bovela®. Not only proven to provide 12 months’ foetal protection, the vaccine has a simple annual booster regime, meaning there isn’t the same worry of missing a booster,” concludes Mr Yarnall.