The British Cattle Veterinary Association Congress included over 60 presentations, 16 workshops and 14 poster presentations. Few sessions disappointed, although veterinary surgeons did not only hear about successful activities. The workshops required considerable thought and involvement by the participating delegates.
Common pitfalls in cattle practice
Under the heading “Common pitfalls in cattle practice”, Nick Perkins of the Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) took considerable trouble to tell cattle vets “not to worry” when it comes to claims. His optimism is based on the statistic suggesting claims against veterinary surgeons for cattle treatments and interventions are fewer than those related to rabbits. Where cattle-related claims occur and are investigated by VDS, the circumstances, in order of frequency, relate to calving, pregnancy diagnosis, failed vasectomy, post-surgical complications, drowning (tubing) and herd health advice.
With large herds and a mix of trained and untrained farm staff, it is wise not to assume that ongoing treatments and animal care are fully understood
Lessons learnt in recent years indicate that it is advisable to “share with the farmer your thought processes leading to an action”, to “give advice on post-operative management” and to not “sign certificates you know you shouldn’t – if in doubt don’t sign”. Nick points out that with large herds and a mix of trained and untrained farm staff, it is wise not to assume that ongoing treatments and animal care are fully understood. A vet needs to be confident that the animal will be well managed after the visit and that the farmer or manager has realistic expectations of the outcome.
Making sure cows’ feet are well looked after is a passion for Nick Bell, Tim Carter and Sara Pedersen, and this came through clearly in their session on raising hoof trimming standards. Much more will be heard about an initiative involving the BCVA and the Cattle Hoof Care Standards Board (CHCSB). Members of the BCVA will be encouraged to take part in evidence-based training that involves veterinary surgeons and hoof trimmers working together. Veterinary surgeons are encouraged to become BCVA Accredited Foot Health Trainers and CHCSB Approved Instructors. In fact, the term used to describe this initiative was to “upskill” vets and trimmers.
Also ongoing is a course on first aid for feet, which is targeted at farms with the occasional lame cow. Lame cows should not wait for attention until the trimmer’s next visit. Course delivery is through vet practices, and the aim is that at least one person on each farm can “lift a hoof” and offer first aid. A course is also available for those who wish to “trim the occasional animal”, as well as advanced certified training for professional hoof trimmers. (Further information is available from the BCVA office.)
During the Johne’s workshop, it was mentioned that the speaker, Peter Orpin, has been actively involved with control of this disease for 15 years, and his experience shone through. The session was billed as a discussion of the Johne’s Tracker adopted by milk recording organisations in July 2021, but when James Hanks (PAN Livestock Services) presented herd data with green, yellow and purple highlights, it became apparent that consistent effort and awareness is required and that interpreting and acting on the Johne’s Tracker data is a considerable intellectual challenge. Peter was able to patiently interpret the various findings into take-home messages and empathise with the difficulties of achieving disease control.
It was strongly indicated that culling cattle without risk control is ineffective – there is no short-term fix. Priority culling identifies the animals putting others at risk and the data allows this to be carried out with greater confidence. Experience indicates that it takes time for the farmer to recognise specific herd risks and find solutions, but the advice for veterinary professionals is to give the client the details of the problem and let them find their own solution. The veterinary role is to guide and facilitate.
The advice for veterinary professionals is to give the client the details of the problem and let them find their own solution
Understanding the data
A full understanding of the data allows risks to be tackled in order of greatest benefit. Major issues are cattle purchases, slurry, infected colostrum, cow to calf, cow to post-weaned calf, cow to heifer, clinical cow to foetus/calf and infectious cow to foetus/calf. Identifying the inoculation point is important. There are real difficulties for farmers in managing the maternity area to reduce the transfer of infection.
One question put forward was “Are clients in a practice improving over time?” One practice example was that 13 percent of herds were in the top 25 percent of herds for the disease in 2015, 55 percent in 2019 and 76 percent in 2022. What is stopping those in the worst 25 percent from improving? To answer these questions Zoom sessions are available for practices to identify and discuss their data, and a Johne’s Masterclass is available at different venues.
An approach to sustainable farming
It was interesting to hear about “hungry fields”, mob grazing and the advantages of mobile water troughs as part of an approach to sustainable farming at congress. Nicki Yoxall, Ollie Blackburn and Bill Quan are enthusiasts for their particular approach to blending production with nature. “We need to be better worm farmers” was one valuable observation. Flowering plants form part of their carbon neutral aims, but the plants need bees. Having plenty of bees indicates that a farm can produce well and look after nature at the same time, and bee keepers are highly valued. Trimming hedgerows every three years, rather than annually, helps with carbon capture. Their approach was summarised as “Production with protection (for nature)”.
Trimming hedgerows every three years, rather than annually, helps with carbon capture
Antimicrobial resistance review
Reviewing the situation with antimicrobial resistance, Shabbir Simjee cautioned that there are different understandings about what is meant by “antimicrobial” and “antibiotic”. Reports from various organisations worldwide also need to be carefully considered. Currently, risk analysis on the impact of developing resistance focuses on medical and animal therapies. There is “increasing evidence to suggest human infections are a result of a transfer of pathogens between humans rather than transfer between animal to human”. However, a comment was made that there is “little funding” to collect risk assessment data for veterinary medicines.
In the bovine tuberculosis (bTB) hotspot area of Devon and Cornwall, Dick Sibley (Witheridge, Devon) discussed the increase in herd breakdowns from June 2021 to June 2022. Over 100 more herd breakdowns have taken place with an increasing number of animal culls. Persistent and recurrent test failures (7.4 percent) over 550 days have been recorded, but there are other herds that go clear and then break down within three years.
The question “Are these new herd breakdowns or recurrent old infections?” was asked of those attending the workshop on eradicating bTB from endemically infected herds. Large dairy herds dominate the endemic group. Herds with low prevalence and low risk are cleared by test and cull, but herds with high prevalence and high risk need an advanced approach.
Dick pointed out that human studies indicate that 5 to 10 percent of infected people become TB shedders (infectious). Shedding is also linked to HIV infection, diet change and poor diet. Dairy cows undergo considerable diet changes, but are these changes reflected in an increased impact of Mycobacterium bovis? This is the question…
Testing and transmission
Sarah Tomlinson highlighted the risks associated with disease entry into a herd. Farmers are advised to buy from herds with a history of few failures in past years. She reminds us that testing TB-negative is not an indication of freedom from infection. Increasing use of gamma tests with endemic herds indicates an immune response, not an infected animal. Furthermore, actiphage detects the organism, not an immune response. Acute diseases are believed to change a latently infected cow into an infectious cow.
For those clients who repeatedly fail the skin test, a veterinary practice may be able to reduce the impact of bTB by managing the risks
There was also a discussion about the value of the bovine tuberculin element of the M. bovis test. Even though the difference between the bovine and the avian strains indicates that the cow is not TB-positive, veterinary practices can review the bovine site sizes for client herds with the intention of creating a high-risk bTB group.
It was further considered that there is a wide range of possible routes of transmission, particularly around calving, when the cow is more susceptible to infection. For those clients who repeatedly fail the skin test, a veterinary practice may be able to reduce the impact of bTB by managing the risks. There was a cautionary note that the farmer needs to wish to aspire to be free of disease, as some farmers have found ways of living with bTB. Veterinary practices are, however, urged to identify those herds carrying endemic infection.