Test-and-cull regime can beat diseases long-term

Implementing testing and culling regimes to improve herd health and eliminate disease can be an expensive process, but in the long term it can yield huge benefits.

Leics-based farmer Eddie Herrick told delegates at the BVA Congress that testing and culling had all but eliminated Johne’s disease and bovine virus diarrhoea (BVD) from his 160-cow suckler herd.

Mr Herrick bought in Johne’s disease in 1991 when, ironically, he was buying females to establish a small, high health-status herd to breed his own stock bulls.

“We bought six Gelbveigh cows with calves at foot as foundation animals, but in 1994 one went down with Johne’s and in 1996 one of the calves bought in with the cows did too. Over the years a further 10-15 developed Johne’s.

“By 2001 we had reduced Johne’s levels and had to decide whether we were going to live with this disease or find a long-lasting solution.

We decided we had to try and eliminate it, so we undertook a full health review and established a British Cattle Vet Association health plan with our vet.

“This involved testing and culling for Johne’s and seeking to eradicate BVD.

Seven animals tested positive for Johne’s at the first test.”

In 2002, despite his desire to maintain a closed herd, Mr Herrick bought in a further four heifers as potential stock bull breeders which he was assured were BVD and Johne’s-free.

“Unfortunately, one heifer tested Johne’s positive in 2003 and another had a high negative reading in 2004.”

On the BVD front, Mr Herrick had seen suspect calves in 2000 and believes these were the result of exposure before 1998.

Thanks to testing, the herd has been BVD free for the last three years, with the result being improved fertility and a tighter calving pattern.

Mr Herrick suggested more farmers should invest in establishing and improving the health status of their animals as an aid to sales.

“Many farmers are simply unaware of their own animals’ status.

They may not intend to deceive buyers, but they often do, by failing to acknowledge the problems their stock have experienced.”

Speaking from the floor, Devon vet Andrew Biggs said that while more openness from vendors would be desirable, without a structured approach any declaration of herd health status would be difficult to back up.