New diagnostic test could help target pneumonia treatment

Farmers could soon identify specific calf pneumonia viruses more quickly, allowing targeted treatment, thanks to a new diagnostic test being validated by Moredun Research Institute.

The test involving the isolation of DNA from samples, would ensure more accurate treatment, explained Kim Willoughby, head of Moredun’s virus surveillance unit, at last week’s Quality Meat Scotland’s R&D Conference, in Perth.

Dr Willoughby said that the three most common virus pathogens that cause calf pneumonia are Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), Bovine Parainfluenza Virus 3 (BPI3) and Bovine Herpesvirus-1 (BoHV-1 or IBR).

“It’s estimated calf pneumonia costs the industry up to £80m a year, mainly due to lost production and efficiency, not vet and treatment costs.”

She said accurate and speedy diagnosis of the virus causing a pneumonia outbreak was crucial to ensure correct treatment.

The best conventional diagnostic tests to isolate pneumonia virus can take up to two weeks, and the more rapid tests presently available can lack sensitivity and specificity. The test now being validated is rapid, sensitive and specific, and can detect more than one pathogen simultaneously.

“Once the sample reaches the lab, all three viruses can be individually detected at the same time, with results available within one to two days,” she said. “This would enable the farmer and his vet quickly to devise the appropriate treatment or vaccination regime, which would certainly reduce productivity losses and save lives.”

It’s hoped the test will be available to diagnostic labs for the 2011/2012 pneumonia season.

Monitoring pig growth

Cameras linked to the farm computer and located above the feeding area of the pens of growing pigs, are providing accurate and up-to-date growth rate information.

Growth rate monitoring is not only key to effective management, it also reveals any variability in performance between groups, alerting the farmer to groups with either a better or poorer growth rate, Harbro nutritionist Willie Thomson told delegates in Perth.

The cameras, which look directly down on the pigs, constantly measure the length and depth of each one as it comes to feed.

Roderic Bruce, a Farmers Weekly 2010 Pig Farmer of the Year finalist, who runs a 350-sow indoor breeding and finishing herd in Aberdeenshire, has been using growth rate monitoring cameras for 18 months.

“We used to weigh our pigs mechanically, and have been stunned as to how close the camera growth assessments are,” he said.

His pigs are still weighed at eight-week intervals, each time they move. “The cameras now tell us what’s happening in between, enabling us to pinpoint speedily any problems and react promptly,” he said.

“There’s always a problem getting weaned pigs to eat. The cameras have allowed us to trial and monitor a range of approaches, and quickly establish which works best.”

Mr Bruce, an ASDA Porklink producer explained how the cameras had also helped him even out growth rate. “Eating quality is obviously important to ASDA, and while a Daily Liveweight Gain improvement of 60g, since installing the cameras, may or may not be due to them, there’s no doubt that they’ve helped us to even out growth rate, a significant contributory factor towards better eating quality.”

For more news from QMS R&D Conference, Perth click here.

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