Johne’s disease is an increasing threat to the efficiency of the UK dairy industry and farmers and vets have been urged to do more to combat the problem.
While official Defra figures suggest around one-third of herds are infected with the disease, over 60% could be at high risk from it, Dick Sibley from West Ridge Veterinary Practice told the DairyUK–DairyCo conference.
“A lot of the risks of disease entry to the herd and spread within herds are due to modern farming practices, herd expansion and buying-in replacements. It’s vital we do more to control infected herds and protect the uninfected.”
In many cases cattle do not show the classic scouring symptoms, but could be affected in other ways, such as reduced milk production, increased susceptibility to other diseases, lameness, mastitis, infertility, and higher cell counts, he said.
“It’s always been a difficult disease to diagnose, but new milk tests have made diagnosis practical and affordable.”
He advised farmers to identify all risks of disease entry into their herd and possible routes it could spread within them, such as pooled colostrum, or feeding waste milk to calves. Milk screening of 30 high-risk cows could then be used to find out whether they are infected and estimate likely prevalence within the rest of the herd.
Mr Sibley said a project to control Johne’s in the south-west had proved popular and had received backing from milk buyers, such as Milk Link. Since its launch last November, 900 dairy farms had engaged with the rural development-funded healthy livestock programme and similar projects were planned for Wales and north-west England.
“Johne’s isn’t just a scouring disease of ‘beige’ cattle and all farms need to be concerned about it, even if they think they haven’t got it. The benefits of tackling Johne’s disease far outweigh the costs.”