EUROPES HEALTHIEST HERD?
Most milk producers recognise the importance of high herd health. But one Cheshire producer has taken the time and trouble to prove his herd is free from undesirable diseases. Jessica Buss reports
ONLY one herd in the UK has been awarded the Cattle Health 2000 Elite Status Certificate, making cattle and milk sold off the farm the healthiest on offer in the UK.
According to producer Sam Noble of Whitehouse Farm, Puddington, South Wirral, his Deehaven herd is the healthiest in Britain and possibly in Europe.
In Apr 1997 his pedigree Holstein herd of 200 cows, averaging 7700 litres, and 200 followers was certified free from infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), Leptospirosis hardjo, bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and Johnes disease in the Cattle Health 2000 scheme run by Bloxham Laboratories on behalf of the government.
"We tested for these four diseases because veterinary advisers tell us these are not desirable in dairy herds," he says.
The herd is also free from tuberculosis, brucellosis and EBL, and is one of few herds in the UK to have had no BSE, adds Mr Noble.
With a disease-free herd, Mr Noble does not need to vaccinate, which reduces costs, as local vet Tony Edginton, Gatehouse Vet Hospital, Wrexham, explains.
"Vaccination is expensive and once started it must be continued. Vaccinating for IBR, lepto and BVD costs about £10 a cow a year after the first year, when two doses of vaccine are needed – doubling the cost," he says.
But when the herd is infected with disease, antibiotic use and milk withholding periods mean costs can be high.
That means it pays to have a clean herd, says Mr Edginton. "Start with a closed herd that is not buying in disease, Good fences and boundaries between other stock are also needed," he says. The Deehaven herd has not bought in animals since 1972.
Mr Noble says that he is now sure that herd is healthy, and so cattle can be sold with a known disease status.
"Selling dairy cattle for breeding without declaring disease status is reckless. Those buying cattle should ask about diseases and whether the herd has tested. Buying in diseased stock is making the national situation worse."
Disease transmission at shows will also disadvantage producers in the long term, he believes.
It was when the herd was showing cows in the 1980s that Mr Noble began to be concerned about herd health. In 1985 he stopped showing because there were no lepto or IBR-free facilities at showgrounds, and show cows would need long isolation periods to ensure disease was not brought back into the herd.
Tested for lepto
Testing the herd for disease began in 1987, when a group of heifers proved difficult to get in-calf and were tested for lepto. When the test proved negative, the whole herd was tested and also found to be free from the disease.
After testing for lepto, Mr Noble decided to join the Cattle Health Scheme, then run by MAFF, which also entailed testing for IBR. Initially, a few animals tested positive because they had been vaccinated as calves. But as these came to the end of their milking life and were culled, the herd became IBR-free.
When Bloxham Laboratories took over the Cattle Health Scheme two years ago, BVD and Johnes became part of the scheme and BVD testing began. Counts for BVD were low, so the herd achieved Elite Status immediately.
"Then we decided to blood test for Johnes to achieve Elite status in all the diseases in the scheme," says Mr Noble. This test also proved negative.
Mr Edginton adds that Johnes is not a great concern in the UK, but is becoming more common in beef cattle in some areas.
Mr Noble admits testing has taken time, and cost £800-£900 a year. However, cost of retesting will fall with development of milk tests for IBR, lepto and BVD.
Above: Testing for disease with bulk milk samples will help herds achieve Cattle Health 2000 Elite status, says producer Sam Noble. Left: It pays well to have a clean, disease-free herd, says Wrexham vet Tony Edginton.
• Free from: IBR, lepto, BVD, Johnes, TB, brucellosis, EBL.
• No cases of BSE.
• No vaccinations needed.
• Lepto: Causes sudden milk drop, abortion and infertility. Transmittable to staff causing severe flu-like symptoms.
• IBR: Cows suffer flu symptoms, with high temperature and runny nose. Can cause abortion.
• BVD: Affects animals immune system and can kill. Seen as ill-thrift in calves, mucosal disease and abortion.
• Johnes: Related to TB, seen as chronic diarrhoea. Untreatable, and with long incubation period so difficultto identify source of infection.