Is it now time to name and shame farmers over BVD?
Given the huge commitment Scottish farmers are making to eradicate BVD, NFU Scotland vice-president GARY MITCHELL asks if it is time to name and shame those who risk Scotland’s disease-free plans.
LAST week, I met a Scottish Government official who was gathering evidence on my own experience in tackling Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) on my farm which involved identifying any persistently infected animals (PIs).
I took the decision to start tissue tagging more than three years ago as it is the only way to get the BVD status of every cow. In year one we had five or six positive animals. In year two we had four or five positives and in year three we had two or three positive animals. If we remain clear until August, then we will be one full year free of the disease.
The question is: what will I do next? I can stop tissue tagging and move to blood tests on groups of young stock. However, I am reluctant to do this in the short term so I will continue to tag at least until January then review it. I want to be sure that every cow in the herd has had a live calf which has been tissue tagged in this time.
I wish others were as committed.
I was shocked when it was revealed to me that, in Scotland, there are 382 known PI animals. Worryingly, 140 holdings have two or more and even more shocking is the fact that one holding has 24.
Do these farmers understand this disease? What on earth do their neighbours think?
I am a very simple person and this how BVD was explained to me many years ago. When the calf is being formed in the womb, there is a stage when the immune system must decide what is a good thing for the body and what is bad. If a cow is exposed to the BVD virus during this period, the cow will transmit it to the womb and the immune system will then take it as a good thing.
I have experienced this through my previous life as a calf rearer, buying and rearing 1,000 calves from up to 30 farms per year.
If the average farm had one PI, I could have had a pen of 20 calves with two PIs. These calves would always take pneumonia first then spread it, the same with scour, but I had no way of knowing exactly which calves they were. And we all know that even good colostrum management will not change immune status of a PI calf.
That prompts me to ask the question of fellow farmers: if you have a PI, why are you keeping it?
If you are unwilling to remove these animals, then, as an industry, we need all farmers to know just where these PIs are, because they are putting a lot of good work at risk.
Using ScotEID, you can check the status of neighbouring CPH holding numbers or of an individual animal. You can look up the status of any CPH by going to scoteid.com and click on ‘ BVD lookup’, entering a CPH number will tell you if that holding is negative, not-negative or positive (has a live PI on the holding). It will also tell you the date of the last test on that holding.
I would urge everyone to seek out information on the risks before turning out their breeding stock or sending breeding cattle away for summer grazing.
Vets can also access PI information on behalf of their clients and more joined up work between vets may help farmers with a proper BVD risk assessment before moving cattle to grass lets.
But is there a case for making that information on PIs more publicly available to farmers?
While there may be a significant number of PI animals yet to be identified through our statutory testing requirements, the time, money and effort put in to tackling BVD risks being undone by those who fail to get rid of known PI animals.
If Scotland wants to demand a premium on the food we produce, we must always be a step ahead of our competitors.
BVD eradication would be a big win-win for the health and efficiency of our cattle sector but it needs the full commitment of all producers.
Gary Mitchell belies some farmers are not doing enough to eradicate BVD.