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Veterinary Practice reports on the large animal day at VetsSouth 2017

VETSSOUTH 2017 GATHERED A ROOM FULL of expertise and enthusiasm for its one-day large animal programme, bringing together Professor Joe Brownlie, Derek Armstrong (AHDB Dairy), Dick Sibley (My Healthy Herd), Eamon Watson (NMR), Roger Blowey, Ailsa Milnes (Boehringer Ingelheim), Paul Williams (MSD Animal Health), Caroline Murray (Elanco Animal Health) and experienced veterinary surgeons in cattle practice.

This was an opportunity to discuss disease knowledge and the demands of control programmes. There are numerous issues for practices and solutions were offered and debated. Such was the enthusiasm and interest that there was little for the chairman (Richard Gard) to do except make sure that everyone was fed and watered throughout the day, more or less on time.

One of the big issues is how to convert the best wishes and intentions into action on the farm. The three speakers from the BVD vaccine companies addressed many of the technical aspects, but also detailed the involvement of the whole industry in attacking the disease in cattle.

Activity is taking place at veterinary practice and farmer level and promoting the details of understanding and how vaccination fits into the overall effort came across as more important than scoring points about the specific attributes of a product.

As the day progressed it became more evident that the use of vaccine is expected to increase as more herds become BVD-free. Protecting naïve herds will require greater assurance for the farmer. For the present, the emphasis is on uncovering the disease within herds.

Establishing risk

Dick Sibley emphasised the need to establish the risk of disease entry into a herd. Tolerance of disease by the farmer has potential impacts on health and productivity and encouraging herd managers to recognise the risks is not always straightforward.

Testing alone has never prevented disease and a commitment to instigate control is sought. Detecting infectious animals is important, whereas infected animals may not be a threat if they are slaughtered before putting other animals at risk.

Achieving freedom from disease may not be economically viable. Process-driven ways to control disease are not seen as the way forward: different routes to control are required to achieve different results.

One of the practical aspects that has arisen with clients is the number of farmers who will import colostrum from a neighbouring farm if a cow dies after giving birth. Described as “a good way to spread disease”, the benefits and risks of some of the more fringe day-to-day activities, including slurry brought in from other farms intentionally or not, were highlighted.

There are basic rules that include an understanding of R0 where anything over 1 indicates that the disease will grow and less than 1 die out. Different diseases have different values. Slow-moving diseases like Johne’s and bTB take longer to control.

Achieving BVD freedom

Professor Brownlie responded to the concerns of delegates about BVD matters. Discarding a formal, structured presentation, he drew many cartoon cows and linked persistently infected animals into time lines of infection, with many examples of how the disease was introduced into beef and dairy herds. Bull semen is a particular concern, often overlooked.

It was encouraging to hear that a veterinary practice-based scheme can achieve BVD freedom for a client in one to two years. The BVD virus infecting a particular herd can be typed and the virus mutates easily to produce many variations. A persistently infected animal (PI) will carry the non-cytopathic form of the virus. It is absolutely essential to remove a PI animal from the herd without delay.

BVD Free England was launched some eight months ago and Derek Armstrong advised that 600 farmers had signed up so far to engage with an eradication programme for their herds. Information is available at bvdfree. about the means available to support eradication.

The estimated annual cost to the industry is around £60 million and 120 organisations have agreed to support the initiative, but funding is low. As progress is made it is hoped that more organisations will become active in the promotion of good practice.

There is already a legal view that a PI calf sold is not fit for purpose. There is no legal framework for disposing of PIs, unlike in other countries and offering compensation for PI calves would be a major step forward for the industry.

The results of tests for individual animals can be accessed by mobile phone. A calf buyer at a market can check whether the calf has come from a BVD-free herd and if not make a management decision whether or not to buy. At some auctions the disease status of an animal being sold is expected to be put up on the market screen at the point of sale.

Derek considers that the eradication programme depends on people, with an acceleration in awareness and disease ownership necessary for the programme to gain momentum. The target is to achieve eradication within five years and hand on BVD-free cattle to the next generation of farmers.

Eamon Watson reviewed the BVD testing available for herds and individual animals, including bulk milk, cow milk, blood and ear notch tag and test. Testing for the presence of antibody in milk is available on a quarterly basis so that the whole herd is covered over time.

Bloods, to test for the virus, from unvaccinated youngstock are taken from nine to 18 months of age with tag and test at birth to include dead calves, stillborns and aborted foetuses. The safe disposal of early deaths requires care as the risk of infection is high.

Need for observation

Roger Blowey challenged the group to identify particular clinical conditions by observation. This is a particular skill available to the veterinary surgeon that often goes beyond the experience of individual farmers. Training clients to recognise when an animal needs to be examined by a vet and not left to the next regular visit is important. Observing an animal, lying or standing, can provide focused information, save inappropriate management, reduce costs and improve animal welfare. The general view is that PI animals will not thrive and that many of the production disease issues on farm are reduced when a BVD eradication programme is successfully introduced. There is also a reduction in antibiotic use.

In times past the financial margins on medicines and bTB testing had supported cattle practices sufficiently to provide free advice to clients, but this model continues to be eroded and the expectations of younger vets are making veterinary recruitment difficult.

Other models of operation need to be further developed and agreements to provide data, services and prescribing, with health contracts and authorised vets providing treatment plans for herds, were highlighted.

Forefront of support

Disease control programmes, with BVD Free England being just one example, place veterinary surgeons at the forefront of support for farmers. The in-depth education of vets, so that they can assess the situation for clients, absorb the technical requirements and continue to actively engage with the farmer, is occupying many agencies.

Veterinary practice is seen as pivotal to success, but there may be a mismatch with the younger vets. It may be that non-veterinary organisations will also have a commercial view as to exactly what services and facilities they expect from vets and how these can be provided for their cattle farming customers.

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