Johne’s Disease eradication plan is a good news story for Ireland

Animal Health Ireland and the other stakeholder groups within the livestock sector are to be applauded for their commitment to push ahead with a Johne’s Disease eradication programme.

But let’s get real here, the scheme will only work if reactor animals are taken off farm and slaughtered as soon as they are identified.

I am not a veterinarian, but my sense of it is that the disease can only be picked up in mature cows and bulls. It can take years for the clinical signs of Johne’s to manifest themselves.

So I would suggest it will take a compensation scheme of sorts to get farmers to part with stock which seem, at least outwardly, to be in good health when tested.

And then there is the issue of what should be done with calves born to infected cows. Again, the likelihood is that if young animals get a suck off the mother at all, they too will contact the disease.

In Canada, dairy farmers operate a snatch calving approach, when it comes to Johne’s prevention.

This entails a newborn calf dropping from the mother into a wheel barrow. The animal is then whisked away immediately, without having the opportunity of making contact with its mother at all.

Beef animals destined for slaughter before they reach 30 months-of-age should present little problem in a Johne’s eradication context. But what about dairy and suckler born heifer calves with the potential to become herd replacements? Farmers with breeding stock will not want to part with animals of this nature easily.

Experience gained from the BVD eradication scheme has confirmed that farmers do not wish to part with any animals until they are either forced or incentivised in some other way to do so.

Johne’s Disease is costing Ireland’s dairy and beef industries millions of euros in lost production on an annual basis. But, again, as the BVD scheme has highlighted, these realities count for little down on the farm, particularly if farmers cannot see the direct impact of a disease within their own businesses.

As we all know, animal diseases do not recognise borders. So, it goes without saying, the authorities in Northern Ireland will have to play their part in helping to secure all-island freedom from Johne’s Disease.

Feeding colostrum from an infected cow is another sure way of spreading the disease. This brings into focus the need for farmers to introduce effective colostrum management programmes. There is some evidence to show that pasteurisation does kill the bacteria causing Johne’s.

A recent study, carried out in the United States, saw no difference in the number of new cases of Johne’s Disease arising on dairy farms between those where waste milk/colostrum was pasteurised and those where milk replacer was used.

The most sinister aspect to Johne’s is its possible link with the onset of Chrone’s Disease in humans.

And this, in my opinion, is the issue – above all others – which makes the eradication of Johne’s an absolute priority for Ireland’s dairy and beef industries.

Exports from both sectors are just too important across the economy as a whole. The last thing we need is our Johne’s status being queried by a valued export customer, or customers, at some stage down the track.