Controlling bovine viral diarrhoea has taken a step forward in Wales, as Debbie James reports.

Beef herds in Wales are to be screened for bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) in an bid to control a disease thought to be active in 10% of Welsh herds.

Up to 100 farms are being recruited by Wales’ red meat promotion body, Hybu Cig Cymru, to screen their cattle and work with vets at the Welsh Regional Vet Centre (WRVC) to control BVD on their farms.

Each farmer can claim up to £400 towards the cost of testing up to 100 cattle.

HCC project executive Dewi Hughes says the pilot project aims to encourage more farmers to be aware of the disease and to take steps to control it.

“The spread of BVD is a major worry for many farmers since it can have a severe impact on animal health, welfare and productivity and, therefore, the profitability of a herd,” he says.

Risk factors include buying-in infected stock, contact with neighbours’ cattle across fences or contact at markets or shows. In addition, visitors who have direct contact with cattle from other farms, and the use of shared equipment can introduce the BVD virus to a previously clean herd.

Vet Stephen van Winden, who heads the WRVC, says the disease has become a real issue on farms and a pro-active approach is needed to control it. Mr Van Winden reckons the disease is endemic and that 10% of herds in Wales would include persistently infected cattle. As well as many other health issues, calf mortalities can rise to 15% in an infected herd, he says.

When the BVD virus is circulating in a herd, it can cause a number of health problems including reduced conception rates and an increased chance of embryonic death, leading to a high number of barren cows and protracted calving periods. Other health issues include abortions, stillbirths and deformed and weak calves.

BVD infection leads to a suppression of disease resistance, allowing calf pneumonia and diarrhoea problems to be more severe. This leads to greater calf losses.

The project is being funded with £40,000 from the Rural Development Plan for Wales and is being offered to farmers on a first-come first-served basis.

And HCC chairman, Dai Davies, hopes it could lead to the eventual eradication of BVD in Wales.

“In Wales we have high welfare standards and a good environment which together help us market our meat. If we could add to that a BVD-free status we could have a real competitive edge in the marketplace.”


CASE STUDY: Philip Jones, Lan Farm, Cynwyl Elfed

One farmer who has suffered direct financial losses resulting from BVD is Carmarthenshire suckler producer, Philip Jones.

For six years he experienced losses from a number of health issues including calf pneumonia, calves failing to thrive, poor cow fertility and abortions. It reached a peak early last year when he lost four store cattle worth £2400.

Mr Jones wasn’t aware he had a BVD problem until he had his cattle tested for BVD last November – a test that revealed three PI (persistently infected) animals. Those cattle were quarantined at an off-farm location and since then he has had no issues with calf pneumonia.

Moving infected cattle off the farm has already made a huge difference, he says, and he is now aware of the signs to look out for if the disease were to reappear. He has a good biosecurity programme in place and uses a BVD vaccine on the breeding stock.

This year Mr Jones will only use his own stock for replacements in the 100-head herd at Lan Farm, Cynwyl Elfed, to reduce further risk of importing BVD onto the farm.

Mr Jones, who has experienced first-hand the benefits of screening, reckons the HCC testing programme could make a big difference to the health status of the national herd. “I would encourage farmers to take the opportunity this project offers them and test their cattle, as spending a little now could help to save a lot of money in the future,” he says.

• Farmers who want to get involved in the screening project can contact the WRVC on 01554 748 597.