Neospora is not something that every farmer will come across. However, it is the causal agent in up to 13pc of diagnosed abortions as shown in recent studies.
It is caused by neospora caninum, an organism of the protozoan family of diseases. It is spread in the faeces of dogs and foxes, and the cows ingest it from pasture or from contaminated feedstuffs.
There is no vaccine and no medicines to treat it, so prevention is the all-important key. If an outbreak occurs, the consequences are enormous with anything from 30-70pc of a group of cows aborting.
Once on the farm, the disease will spread from dam to offspring during pregnancy (if the pregnancy survives), and from cow to dog and back to cow again. Therefore, these points become the focus of limiting the disease and eventually eradicating neospora off the farm. Any neighbouring farmer or member of a discussion group who has an outbreak will be only too willing to list out the devastation.
nNeospora enters the farm via contaminated pasture or feedstuffs.
nUse of feeder wagons on modern Irish farms means one small faecal contamination by a dog or fox will be spread evenly across the entire dairy herd.
nAs survivors of this disease remain contaminated for life, they must go on the long-term culling list if possible.
nIn any outbreak, we can see massive numbers of abortions leading to huge difficulties with the production of replacement heifers.
Therefore, the losses and effects are not just in the first year, but lead on into subsequent years as the neospora positive cows are weeded out, and removed from the farm.
nInfected placenta and calving areas are a source of further contamination to farm dogs. Break the cycle by keeping dogs away from such areas and such materials.
nKeep dogs away from feed store areas.
nAvoid feeding grass cutting from household lawns to breeding cattle.
nBlood sampling the herd is required to identify neospora positive cows in the aftermath of any outbreak.
nBreed neospora cows only to beef breeds and never use the resultant offspring in breeding programmes.
nNever sell neospora positive animals on the open market where an unsuspecting farmer could purchase and introduce the infected animal into a new breeding group.
nThat leads onto the importance of blood sampling all potential breeding stock that are purchased from another farm. Beware of the Trojan horse in the form of a healthy looking forward heifer that may have been born to a neospora positive animal.
nYour farm vet will guide you on prevention points and on eradication efforts if neospora manages to come onto your farm.
nBulk milk sampling will help pick up any small signs of a neospora problem within the herd. Any sort of positive result should set the alarm bells ringing if the disease is new to the herd.