Eradicating BVD is within reach for Northern Ireland – but the final push will need everyone committed to the cause, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said.

It comes as Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI) announced that the number of herds retaining BVD Positive cattle for more than five weeks has dropped below 100 for the first time.

UFU deputy president William Irvine said: “The figures from AHWNI are testament to the ongoing focus that farmers and industry stakeholders are putting on eradicating this disease.

“However, it is important that farmers continue playing their part in stamping out the virus. I encourage farmers to tag calves as soon as possible after birth and send the samples away, adhering to guidance by AHWNI.

Eradicating BVD in NI is within our reach but we need everyone committed to achieve it.

“The UFU has been calling for more robust measures to be implemented within the BVD scheme for some time now.

“We want to see universal compliance with the legislation, testing, and prompt removal of BVD Positive animals. DAERA need to introduce legislation to help eradicate this disease.”

For the first time in the history of the NI BVD Programme, the number of herds retaining BVD Positive cattle for more than five weeks has dropped below 100 herds, to 81 herds with a total of 118 Positive cattle on December 1, 2020.

The current figures are remarkable considering that at the start of 2020 there were 381 retained cattle in 264 herds, so, while numbers fluctuate, they have fallen to one-third of what they were in less than 12 months.

The introduction of the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme non-conformance for retention of BVD Positive animals for more than five weeks from the disclosure of results has had a very significant effect in reducing numbers.

Welcoming the latest figures, Dr. Sam Strain, chief executive of Animal Health & Welfare NI, commented: “The marked decrease in the number of retaining herds demonstrates how herd owners in NI have taken the messages seriously on the risks that BVD presents and have acted to protect their herds by following veterinary advice to cull BVD positive cattle.

While it is known that BVD cases will continue to emerge, due to the fact that infection of some dams during early pregnancy has already occurred, there is no question that the amount of virus circulating on NI farms is decreasing dramatically.

“In order to eradicate this costly disease, all farmers need to play their part in stamping out the virus, by taking prompt action when BVD positive or Inconclusive cattle are disclosed in their herd and by taking steps to maximise the biosecurity of their herds.”

Next steps

Last month, Dr. Sam Strain, programme manager for Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI), told AgriLand the number of herds in Northern Ireland retaining BVD PI animals has “fallen dramatically” since toughened eradication measures were introduced to the region’s Farm Quality Assurance Scheme earlier this year.

During the summer AHWNI partnered with the Livestock and Meat Commission to enforce requirements for farmers to remove PI animals from their farm or face losing their Farm Quality Assurance.

Letters were sent to farms found to have retained PI animals, explaining that if they did not cull the animals within a set period of days further action would be taken.

Despite the progress that has been made, industry stakeholders continue to call on DAERA to introduce measures that have been successful in other BVD eradication programmes, in order to accelerate progress towards eradication.

These measures include the introduction of movement restrictions in affected herds and the issue of neighbour biosecurity notifications, so as to reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted to other cattle in their herd of residence, or to neighbouring herds.

Restrictions and the provision of targeted veterinary advice should further encourage farmers to comply fully with the current guidance to put down or retest cattle suspected of being infected with the virus.