Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) is an initiative by farmers’ organisations and the wider cattle industry to promote improved cattle health and welfare within Northern Ireland (NI). A cross-industry BVD Implementation Group (BVDIG) has been created to develop a Northern Ireland eradication programme which has begun with a voluntary period in 2013.

The programme is based on testing ear punch samples collected using tissue sample-enabled official identity or management tags for BVD virus and is designed to identify calves persistently infected (PI) with BVD virus as soon as possible after birth to enable their rapid culling. Where PI calves are detected in a herd, further testing is required to identify any other PI cattle that may be present and to prevent spread through trade. It is envisaged that each herd will complete three years of tissue tag testing of calves followed by a further three years of lower intensity surveillance.

To date, approximately 190,000 tissue sample tags have been ordered for use in 3,000 herds. So far 0.71% of tissue samples from calves have tested positive. Where blood samples have been taken to confirm that these calves are persistently infected, 89% have again been positive. The majority of herds with PI calves in 2013 had only one born, with 95% having four or less. Results for blood samples collected from the dams of positive calves (DAMPIs) indicated that 5.9% were positive, consistent with their also being PI. DARD are now working toward a compulsory programme, although a specific start date for this next phase is not yet available. In the meantime, participating farmers should note the following points:

Herd owners in Northern Ireland wishing to join the programme can do so simply by ordering tissue sample tags from a designated tag supplier who has been designated by the BVD Implementation Group for this purpose. As part of the tag order process herd owners will be required to grant a number of permissions in relation to their herd data and results and undertake to comply with the programme guidelines.

The North’s Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill hopes to push ahead with a compulsory BVD eradication scheme in the very near future.