Expanding cattle disease control…

01 April 2015, at 12:00am

RICHARD GARD provides a round-up of initiatives and research progress on a number of the common conditions of both beef and dairy cattle and the need for continuing and greater veterinary involvement

THE Rural Development Programme for England has a €4 billion fund to allocate from now until 2020. One of the programmes is Countryside Productivity and within that are funding opportunities for “improvements for animal productivity, health and welfare”.

Some submissions are due by June 2015 and appear to be particularly targeted at equipment, with 40% support. One of the topics requiring technical evaluation at present is the recycling of manure as bedding and litter drying systems are specifically mentioned with £35,000 plus of investment.

Although the support may at first seem to be targeted at farmers, there are opportunities for veterinary practices to make the case for support items that would increase productivity across a number of farms. Further immediate details are available from RDPE.

There is considerable momentum gathering to involve veterinary practices in disease control initiatives. Some of these are well tried and tested but others will be developed in the coming months. Veterinary surgeons with views on the direction of activity have an opportunity to influence the outcomes.

Bringing inputs together

What is interesting is there is a genuine belief that the various inputs into disease control need to be brought together and furthermore there is recognition that few cattle herds are able to effectively control all the elements that contribute to their welfare.

Projects and emphasis on one disease aspect have led to neglect of another and the overall outcome is not necessarily positive. Veterinary practices will, in future, need to be much more realistic in assessing overall outcomes, not just single disease control.

Structured approach

The DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan has attracted over 300 veterinary surgeons and parlour technicians to undergo training towards a structured approach, tackling cell count and mastitis issues on farm.

The idea is to work through a set of collated data that indicates mastitis patterns within a herd, arrive at a diagnosis, assess risk factors and develop a control platform.

The farmer is then supported to manage an action plan with routine monitoring and reviews of seasonal differences in the recognised disease patterns. This is not an easy task and the farmers pay the consultants for their involvement.

It is estimated that about two-thirds of the people who have undergone training are actively engaged in on-farm disease control.

A full analysis of progress is due soon from the programme managers (QMMS and Nottingham University) and further research projects are introducing information to be updated into the ongoing content and awareness.

However, individual veterinary surgeons may only have a few farmers joining in with the full programme. It is expected that many farmers will adopt just some elements. There is, therefore, the possibility of considerable growth with perhaps as few as 10% of dairy herds truly benefitting from the considerable effort and technical input to date.

The programme is now linked to a BCVA advanced practitioner’s certificate. Information from veterinary surgeons offering this structured approach to mastitis control to farmers appears to be very important in order to recognise any hindrances to progress.

Three-yearly review

The Healthy Feet Programme is coming up for a three-yearly review. Some 150 veterinary surgeons and foot trimmers have trained to be mobility mentors with coverage all over the UK. There is a thrust to develop more mentors this year, particularly in Scotland.

The detail coming out from this initiative is continuing to advance awareness and also fundamental knowledge about the causes of reduced mobility in dairy cows.

Current research includes awareness of treponeme transfer on hoof knives as a contributing risk with digital dermatitis, bony growths within the hoof applying pressure from within the foot as well as concerns about pressure from without and the hot topic of the role of fat pads.

The forthcoming lameness conference is expected to include these and other issues and the mentors will be expanding their assessments to update the lameness map for a particular herd.

Results from research to link body condition score with lameness incidence is due within months, as is the social networking of cows study at Exeter. These are a couple of the outcomes from the DairyCo Research Partnership.

This is a complex initiative where PhD students and industry projects are supported financially. Nottingham University is involved with health, welfare and nutrition along with the RVC, Harper Adams, Bristol, Aberystwyth and others.

Veterinary practices are also involved, not only in liaising with clients and collecting data but also in proposing areas requiring investigation.

It is understood that there are 24 PhD student projects due to be completed over the next 12 months, with three more already agreed and due to start for the next academic year. About 50 projects are operating with some directed at the better use of soil for crops, bioethanol distilling and the use of home-grown protein sources.

In general, industry partnership projects are co-funded with extensive links to the various funding bodies. When a project has been agreed it is put out for tender. Particular areas of interest may not need to be a standalone item with the option of inclusion in ongoing or developing studies.

The present Research Partnership arrangements are due to end in 2016 and there are current discussions about future direction.

If you have a view about topics or arrangements, please contact jenny. A recent research webinar on heifer rearing has had the greatest sign-up of participants to date.

Technical input

There are some 77,000 cattle herds in GB including just under 10,000 dairy herds. It is well recognised that veterinary practices have the highest level of technical input into dairy herds, with lesser and minimal involvement with commercial beef.

Pedigree and specialist beef attracts a greater input but in order to tackle endemic diseases the veterinary stretch needs to be expanded.

One of the benefits from tuberculin testing has been that a veterinary surgeon has at least to visit each beef herd for the routine test and more frequently for herds under restriction. Exactly how much influence on other diseases is achieved by these visits is not promoted.

It is good news, therefore, that DairyCo and EBLEX are combining forces to support the national plan for Johne’s disease, the national programme for BVD and developing a bTB information hub to promote best practice.

Support for the BVD voluntary programme includes the RDPE and many veterinary practices have been engaging with clients to tackle the technical elements to locate persistently infected animals and set up targeted disease control. It will be important that experiences with this disease are collated and used to influence the direction of BVD control in beef and dairy herds. There is much work to be done.

An action plan for Johne’s control in dairy herds (Action Johne’s) was announced last year with the aim of engaging 80% of dairy herds. Milk processors and the supply chain are involved in promoting awareness and control.

A joint approach involving beef and dairy is of considerable interest. More details are awaited and the emphasis is on taking a long-term strategy for endemic disease.

Enough information has been analysed to move on from awareness of the disease to actively achieving disease-free status. There may be encouraging signs that smaller beef herds appear able to achieve control more quickly than larger herds and gain an economic advantage.

Best practice

Establishing and promoting best practice for the control of bTB may suffer from a lack of information on economic, effective and practical control solutions. The leading role of cattleto-cattle transmission is seriously questioned in practice and films of badgers in farmyards are not evidence of disease transfer.

It is hoped the TB Hub will at least encourage defining the incidence of disease in dairy cows, beef cows, youngstock and heifers.

Adapting the approach taken with both Healthy Feet and the Mastitis Control Plan, with accurate definition about the disease incidence on farm and on neighbouring farms, will be an advance.

There is a great deal of activity to be accommodated this year. Thanks to the DairyCo team of Kate Cross, Derek Armstrong and Jenny Gibbons for sharing their expectations.