“It is so important that we make the most of this chance.”

19th Jan 2022

After their herd screened clear for BVD, this south Wales vet and farmer had a surprise when their next annual screening returned some interesting results. The cause? After purchasing a pregnant cow at a mart, which gave birth to a PI animal, the virus began to spread amongst the herd.

Finding a Persistently Infected (PI) animal on your farm can be incredibly disheartening and frustrating. BVD is a costly disease and although the risks are known, there is still work to be done to ensure that the disease is eradicated once and for all.

With first-hand experience of using the financial support available through the Gwaredu BVD programme, this farmer has conducted both Youngstock Screening and PI Hunting over the past three years. During this time, three PI’s have been identified – one from cattle purchase at the Mart, plus an additional two that were born the following year. Through their own experience, they share their thoughts on why it’s important to test regularly, act immediately to stop the risk of further infection and to work side-by-side with vets to help stamp out the disease.

Q: What support have you received from Gwaredu BVD so far?

A: I’ve had fantastic support and have been testing annually for the past 4 years. The screening has resulted in 3 years of PI hunting in which time I’ve found 3 PI animals.

Q: What were the signs that lead you to suspect BVD was present on your farm and how did you use the Gwaredu BVD programme to tackle it?

A: My cattle were being tested for TB and one of the calves wasn’t looking very good. So we took a blood test and identified it as a PI. I had the results back very quickly and then I did a PI hunt on the rest of the calves from that group. Since then, I tag and check every calf as it’s born and any calf I buy, I also tag and check.

Q: How did you find the process of PI Hunting using Gwaredu BVD?

A: The process was brilliant and the results came back quickly. It was fantastic.

Q: Could you identify how the infected animal came to be present on your farm?

A: Yes. The PI came into my farm as a trojan calf from a pregnant cow I had bought in a cattle mart sale. Interestingly though, as a vet I had been testing the herd that it came from for BVD for a number of years and knew the herd was clear of the disease before they went for sale. However, I hadn’t considered that BVD could’ve been picked up during movement between farms and that was the risk that I had forgotten about. The cow and its calf had picked up BVD at the mart – and as the cow was pregnant at around 3 months, this was just at the right stage where she would’ve been vulnerable to catching the disease.

I’m trying to minimise the risk of BVD being present on my farm, so I’m not buying cows currently and any calves that arrive are always tagged and tested on arrival. It only takes a couple of days to get the results, so you should wait to see the calf’s status before you let it out amongst the main herd.

Q: How costly was it to you after finding PI animals present on your farm?

A: I probably lost about £2000-£3000 because I had PI animals. I think it would have cost me more if I hadn’t tagged and checked after the first year of testing, because two of the PI animals would have gone on to infect others as well. I also made sure that my cattle were vaccinated very quickly.

Q: As a farmer, how did it make you feel when you found PI animals on your farm?

A: It’s very devastating when you’re not expecting it. It was a bit devastating because I knew that this PI calf had been running amongst my pregnant cows and I was worried about what was inside the cows for the next year. My one PI calf had resulted in two more PI calves being born.

Q: Gwaredu BVD has been issuing certificates to farmers that have screened clear for the disease and also encourages farmers to show their BVD status when selling their cattle. Is this something you look for and do yourself?

A: When I had a Gwaredu BVD-free status in the first year, I used to show my status when I was selling at Marts. But since I’ve lost my status due to the identification of PI animals, I make sure I still put on the Mart catalogue that every calf being sold has had a negative reading and is tagged and tested. This is to ensure that buyers know that the calf is free of the disease.

As a vet, I go around different farms and I know who is clear and who’s not within my area. I do my due diligence and like to check. I still tag and test everything I buy just to be sure that I am not bringing any PI’s onto my farm.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges that Wales faces in terms of BVD eradication?

A: The mentality at Marts needs to change. Farmers also need to be willing to tag and check, and need to ensure they get rid of their PI animals.

Q: From a vet’s perspective, is it challenging to get farmers to participate in Gwaredu BVD’s youngstock screening?

A: Personally, I don’t find it challenging because I will just tell my client’s that we are testing and that’s the end of it! It is only taking 5 bloods during a TB test and the animals are already in the crush. I think it’s so important that all of us vets play our part. It is important that we make the most of this chance.

Q: How important is it for you to screen annually? What message would you give to farmers who have not yet screened?

A: It’s a no-brainer! I can’t see any reason not to screen. Just think of the benefits that they could get out of knowing their BVD status. It’s free to do and if the herd is clear then that’s a massive bonus. If not, then there’s still time to get something done about it whilst funding is still available. Just get it done.

Q: Why should farmers keep testing on an annual basis?

A: Farms are really at risk if they’re not testing annually and BVD becomes present. Farmers will be in the same position I was in and it could wreak havoc. The real problems we see is if an infected animal is introduced into a naïve herd, where there’s no immunity or vaccination.

Q: Anything else before we say ‘goodbye’?

A: Farmers – just be careful when purchasing and make sure you monitor your herds. If you find a problem, make sure to do a PI hunt as quickly as you can to find out what’s going on.