It will take more than three years to eradicate BVD from Northern Ireland, according to Dungannon-based veterinary surgeon Craig McAllister.

“The statutory eradication programme is due to kick in at the beginning of March,“ he said.

“However, if the experience gleaned south of the border is anything to go by, it could be at last 2020 before the entire island is clear of the disease.

“The Republic’s statutory programme, which launched at the beginning of 2013,  has seen the number of persistently infected calves fall from 0.7% of all animals born to the current level of 0.03%.

“This is still a significant figure. And I see no reason why this trend will not be repeated in Northern Ireland.”

McAllister confirmed that the impact of BVD represents one of the biggest costs to the cattle industry.

We rarely see animals with physical symptoms.

“However, the condition is responsible for reduced fertility levels on many farms.

“It is also the underlying cause of pneumonia problems, in quite a number of instances, as it acts to suppress the immune system.

“Approximately 80% of persistently infected animals will die before reaching 24 months of age. However, the remaining 20% can survive to breed, if not identified and physically removed from herds before that point.

“All persistently infected animals have the potential to shed virus throughout their lives.

Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill has confirmed that the BVD eradication programme will be introduced on March 1 this year.

“The required legislation has now passed all of its required stages through the Stormont Assembly.

“This is a good news story for livestock farmers. BVD is a disease which can significantly reduce the performance of infected herds.

“There is good reason to believe that through the application of this legislation, we will be taking an important step towards eradicating BVD from the herd in the north. That would certainly be a considerable achievement and will bring BVD compulsory testing here in line with the rest of Ireland,” she said.