Northern Ireland farmers commended as BVD falls 60% to record low

A national disease eradication programme is celebrating a record low number of positive bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) cases, seven years after it was set up.

BVD prevalence has fallen 60% since March 2016, when Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI) kicked off the national eradication scheme.

At the end of the first year of the compulsory programme, the rolling 12-month animal level incidence was 0.66%. This had fallen to 0.26% at the end of December 2022.

See also: NI launches five-step new year’s resolution for BVD control

Tough sanctions

The Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) has commended farmers for their BVD reduction efforts.

UFU deputy president John McLenaghan said most farmers were being responsible and culling persistently infected animals within four weeks of identification – but not all.

Mr McLenaghan said: “The vast majority of affected farmers are making responsible decisions to cull persistently infected animals promptly, which reduces the risk of spreading BVD, helping us move closer to eradicating the disease.”

He stressed that the UFU supported government proposals to impose restrictions on owners not fully engaged in testing and dealing with infection in their herds.

“The UFU fully supports all measures that will help us in our efforts as we work towards eradicating BVD as quickly and effectively as possible,” he said.

Marked reduction

On 1 March 2023, there were 63 living BVD-positive animals, of which only 14 had been retained on farm for five weeks. Approximately 1,400 cattle had an initial BVD-positive test result in 2022.

By contrast, on 3 September 2018 (two-and-a-half years into the scheme), there were more than 1,000 positive living animals and 750 animals had been retained on farm longer than five weeks.

The drop in retention levels of stock with BVD is encouraging, said veterinary surgeon Sharon Verner, BVD programme manager for AHWNI.

She said: “The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs recently consulted on proposals to introduce BVD herd restrictions, and industry continues to request further essential measures, including biosecurity notifications, that would allow the target of BVD eradication to be met.”

Advice for managing persistently infected cattle

  • Cattle persistently infected (PI) with BVD must be identified and removed from the farm by culling
  • Effective “distancing” of known BVD-positive cattle needs to take place as soon as possible following diagnosis and until the animal either receives a negative test result or is culled
  • Distancing must rule out direct or indirect contact with other susceptible animals
  • Isolation premises must have a separate airspace and separate drainage from other farm buildings, and there should not be any sharing of equipment

Source: AHWNI