Suspected outbreak of Botulism on dairy farm

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A dairy herd in Co Fermanagh has been left devastated after a suspected outbreak of Botulism.

Although not confirming botulism as the cause of the deaths of the cattle, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) did confirm that department officials had visited the farm.

In a statement, the department spokesperson said: “DAERA veterinary officers visited a farm in Co Fermanagh following reports of the death of a number of cattle.

“After initial investigations it has been determined that the cause is unlikely to be a notifiable disease under the Diseases of Animals (NI) Order 1981. Tests are ongoing to establish the cause.”

It has been reported that the farm in question is believed to have had a herd of approximately 170 cattle. However, that number has been decimated to around 40 animals in the last three days.

Ulster Farmers’ Union, deputy president, David Brown, says the Botulism outbreak on the farm was one of the worst scenes he had ever witnessed and that the community are devastated for the farmer who has had to deal with such an outbreak.

“No one wants to see their livestock suffer and this is a terrible loss for the farmer and his business,” he said.

The DAERA website confirms the serious nature of Botulism, however it is not a notifiable disease and no statutory action is taken in cases or suspected cases.

Botulism is a bacterial disease, which will prove fatal to cattle if they have not been vaccinated against it. Onset of the condition is usually rapid, the initial signs being hind limb weakness progressing to paralysis, collapse and death.

The most common source of the disease in Northern Ireland is chicken litter, which has been spread on to fields as a fertiliser source. There have been instances of the toxin that is produced by the offending bacteria remaining active in silage for a considerable period of time.

Evidence would also suggest that passing chicken litter through an Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant will not kill off all disease-causing bacteria or break down all of the toxins they produce. As a result, it is thought that AD digestate can be a source of the disease.

Farmers are strongly advised to vaccinate stock against Botulism, in cases where there is any risk of the animals picking up the disease.