Poor fertility and loss of production could be costing some herds nearly £270 a cow, meaning few farmers can afford to leave them unprotected against disease.

With 70% or more of herds testing positive for diseases such as leptospirosis, and only 10 to 15% of beef farmers vaccinating against it, producers are losing income unnecessarily, says Paul Williams, Schering Plough livestock vet adviser.

He says some farms find it difficult to understand the concept of lost income or profit they could have made if their herd was operating at optimum efficiency.

“A recent study calculating the cost of leptospirosis in herds found a difference of 55 days calving interval would cost £269 a cow therefore, for a 100-cow herd you would be looking at almost £27,000.”

Infected herds have shown to have an overall conception rate of 34% compared with 50% in uninfected herds. Reduced fertility and impaired immunity add extra cost for semen straws, mean fewer calves a cow and increase expenditure on drugs, he adds.

“With vaccination costing less than £5 a shot, dairy herds only have to reduce their calving interval by one day to pay for it, while beef producers can secure payback by achieving 3kg extra weaning weight from earlier calving.”

Mr Williams said that, due to high exposure rates to leptospirosis, signs of the disease are less pronounced and often sub-clinical.

“Infertility, depressed herd yield and abortions in heifers are still financially costly, but not always visible. Naïve herds, although now rare, may suffer abortion storms, up to a 30% drop in milk yield and weak calves.

“Biosecurity is also essential, with leptospirosis often entering herds from bought-in females and bulls, watercourses and co-grazing.”

For those farmers wanting to check their leptospirosis status, he advises using a simple lab test. “For dairy cattle a simple bulk tank analysis is needed. For beef cattle 20 to 30 individual blood samples are required, which can easily be tied in with TB or brucellosis sampling.”Case Study

 CASE STUDY Lewis Foster, Hexham

Ongoing grumbles such as cows not thriving, infertility in older cows and outbreaks of pneumonia are usual factors that appear on farm, but are often attributed to nothing.

These were issues that Lewis Foster, West Nubbock Farm, Hexham, had experienced in the past. It wasn’t until he volunteered for screening that leptospirosis became evident in more than 60% of his 150 Limousin x Charolais herd.

Having a proactive approach and working closely with the vet is what should be encouraged, prevention is always better than cure, says Mr Lewis. “I already vaccinate against bovine viral diarrhoea and, although it is my own personal policy, I am not willing to take the chance of getting leptospirosis.”

The positive effects are yet to be seen with his herd as vaccination only took place in February this year. “However, I’d rather pay for the insurance policy than lose money on infected stock.”

Leptospirosis control tips

  • Present in 70% of UK herds

  • Cost of slipped calving

  • Test for exposure

  • Consider vaccination

  • Leptospirosis could be costing beef herds £269 a cow in slipped calving dates, making prevention a must for herd profitability