All-Ireland maps show scale of work needed to tackle NI’s BVD problems

BVD data from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland collated for the first time shows the stark contrast in the disease in Northern Ireland compared to south of the border.

The colour-coded dot map shows that many northern farmers are still choosing to hold on to cattle persistently infected (PI) with Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD).

Dr. Sam Strain, programme manager of Animal Health and Welfare NI, said staff were “baffled” as to why farmers were choosing to retain infected animals.

He told AgriLand there were typically as many as 950 PI animals in the province at any one time.

“That includes a mixture of recently disclosed PIs and ones which have been retained,” he said.

“Animals which have been kept for more than 35 days after the disease has been disclosed are considered to have been retained.”

Dr. Strain estimated that the retention rate was currently around 60%, despite the lack of options for these animals.

“Some farmers seem to think that the abattoir ban will be lifted, but the meat processors have all been very supportive and that will not happen any time soon,” he said.

The options are extremely limited for PI cattle in Northern Ireland, with both marts and abattoirs now refusing to take the animals. For most of them, the only remaining option seems to be home slaughter; however, it is difficult to finish an animal suffering from BVD.

PIs born in 2018

The BVD maps were produced by the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA), University College Dublin, and are the result of a collaboration between Animal Health Ireland (AHI), Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) and DAERA (Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs).

They show localised patterns of disease and allow a comparison of the progress being made in eradicating BVD in each jurisdiction.

The industry-driven NI programme, run by AHWNI, became compulsory in March 2016, and is making good progress.

To-date there has been a 15% decrease in animal prevalence and a 22% reduction in herd prevalence.

The steep decline in disease incidence seen in the AHI-run programme in the ROI, which became mandatory in 2013, illustrates how progress can be made in tacking this critical disease in a relatively short period of time.

The maps use anonymised data and fixed sized hexagonal units to represent disease densities.

They show that the profile of PI calf births in NI during 2018 (map above) is similar to what was observed three years ago in the Republic of Ireland.

The map below displays where PIs are that are still alive. While higher densities of living PIs may be observed in certain areas, in some cases these will be due to a small number of farms having had several PIs disclosed on testing.

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) supported the publication, saying it will help target measures and resources to areas where more action is required.

UFU deputy president, David Brown said: “The stark contrast between the situation in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is both concerning and encouraging.

“Obviously, we want to protect and develop the health and reputation of our industry and the current level of PI retention in NI is extremely disappointing.

“On the plus side, ROI is three years ahead of us in the eradication programme and it is very encouraging to see the significant progress that is achievable when everyone plays their part.”