Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

Act now to stop BVD in its tracks

Paedar O'Scanaill

Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is in the news all week and some of the information is hard to understand. The beef herd is out grazing at present and, in general, should look as healthy as bees. One would wonder how BVD could be relevant.

But as we do our morning stock check, let's see where BVD is at. This is a virus that hits the immune system. It attacks the bone marrow which is the production factory in the body for immune cells. So, what?

The biggest problem with this virus is the hidden cost. The virus lowers the body's protection -- like lowering the drawbridge of a castle. Along comes every other disease and straight through the castle gates. So we see pneumonia. We also see any other infection that passes the way.

We blame IBR or Pasteurella for the pneumonia, but in fact it was that traitor BVD that lowered the drawbridge. If we knobble him we'll greatly reduce the cost of other diseases in general.

As I said earlier, BVD is in the news this week for two main reasons. One is the withdrawal of one of the vaccines used in this country against the disease. There's a general recall on Pregsure, the Pfizer version of the vaccine. This was due to a concern that it may have had a link with the finding of a bleeding calf syndrome across Europe. I sincerely hope that the removal of a competitor in the market does not trigger a rise in the cost of another.

The other reason BVD hit the headlines is the big push by Animal Heath Ireland to go for an all-Ireland eradication of the disease. This makes sense, but it will take a reasonable push by all parties. For the vet's part, Veterinary Ireland is an integral part of Animal Health Ireland and is fully supportive of getting this bug out of the country.

Back to our cattle out grazing in the field and we ask, "Why all the fuss?" BVD hidden in our fatteners will help virus pneumonia strike at the next period of stress. It could be something as simple as running up the crush to dose them or putting them onto slats to finish them.

Similar problems will occur with our weanlings.

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And so to the beef cows. What signs could there be of trouble?

In September they should be pregnant. If any are exposed to BVD for the first time, the virus will cross into the womb and enter the calf. Once in the calf, it becomes part of the calf and, forever more, that calf does not recognise the virus as a disease. That means he becomes permanently infected with the virus. He's what we call a PI.

A PI in your herd is like a production factory for the virus throughout its life. It continuously sheds the virus and keeps the whole farm contaminated with the disease. So it's in the pregnant cow stage of the cycle that we need most protection. A fully vaccinated beef cow is like switching off the tap of production for this virus.

OK, so we've heard enough. Let's contact the vet and set a Herd Health Plan in place. Let's stop this guy in his tracks. Today is the day for the big push!

  • Peadar O'Scanaill, MVB MRCVS, is a veterinary practitioner in Ashbourne, Co Meath, and a member of Veterinary Ireland's Animal Health Committee. Email:

Irish Independent