I pulled my collar up to protect against the harsh wind as I headed out to a heifer calving the other night. She was sick to calve all day and was now logged as a call to a possible twisted womb. This was the first of this year's calves on this farm and the farmer was all agog about the new BVD test on all newborn calves. This BVD eradication programme is one serious step forward. Hats off to all concerned.
This initiative has the ability to save the farming world millions of euros from the outset. The ear punch test makes use of a novel laboratory test that can identify these PI (persistently infected) calves the moment they hit the ground. The PI calf is the production factory for the BVD virus, and plucking it out at the earliest occasion is the best way to stop the spread of the virus in its tracks.
Before the advent of the ear punch test, we were identifying these infected animals by way of a blood test only. The blood test was being carried out on adult animals primarily and these adults would then be taken off the farm by whatever which way.
The trouble was that the damage was already done by then. The adult could be two or more years old, having actively pumped out the virus to all its comrades. Plucking out semi-mature PI animals is tantamount to plucking ragwort from the pasture many weeks after the seeds have spread. The ear punch test, on the other hand, is like picking the same ragwort well before it ever goes to seed.
All said, the new BVD eradication scheme has not been without its teething problems. One of these is worth a short mention. Well into the planning stages, it became obvious that legislation to singularly outlaw the sale of a known PI animal would not be in place before the onset of testing. This led some farm organisations, and our own Veterinary Ireland organisation, to shout a halt to proceedings.
There was a big fear that some PI positive calves would be presented for sale by a farmer who may wish to be shut of them once identified.
However, the Sale of Goods Act and other existing legislation was deemed to cover this, and some policy changes by the DVO and, more recently, the marts has now made it most difficult for anyone to try to pass on a PI calf. This, thankfully, satisfied the vets and farmers alike.
But let's just pull back for one moment. There's a lesson for us all in this point. What happens when a herd proves positive on a test for Johne's? Or again, where a herd is shown to have a problem with Neospora, or with IBR for that matter?
There was a story which made the rounds a few years ago when a prominent, centrally run herd was depopulated for some disease problem.
While trying to repopulate the herd with good quality stock, it was found to be nigh on impossible to source animals of high genetic merit that could be found to be free of all these lingering diseases. This was primarily because no substantial verifiable testing regime was in place on a significant number of farms.
In the case of Johne's, one needs to source breeding stock born to dams and grand-dams that have been repeatedly tested and shown to be negative over several years.
And the herd needs to be a closed enterprise that could not have imported such diseases over the recent past. It's a hard task to tick all those boxes.
On the flip side of the coin, what happens to the heifers of known Johne's-positive dams? Do they all enter the food chain or are some sold on the open market?
And what about the incidence of Neospora cows giving birth to healthy heifers? Where do the heifers go if they are not to re-enter their farm of origin's breeding programme? Do they enter anyone else's breeding programme? Up jumps the legal quote, 'Buyer Beware!'
And so we should. There is an onus on the purchasers to be, at all times, vigilant with bought-in-stock. We must always isolate them from the main herd or flock. Test them for the usual range of suspects -- consult your vet for the relevant tests for your own enterprise -- and only allow mingling with the home stock when dewormed, deloused and defluked.
And continue to watch out for that wandering PI.
Remember, it is possible to have PI calves for sale coming from farms that are not partaking in this first year of the BVD test.
Because they have not been tested does not mean they are free of the disease. Don't be afraid to test them on your return from the mart.
Meanwhile, back at my call that evening, my heifer did have a twisted womb. Quickly enough, we untwisted her and had a live calf on the ground in no time. That was the first punch test for me for the year and, boy, am I glad to be part of this disease eradication initiative.
Anything that removes debilitating diseases from the animals under our care is always a good thing in the eyes of the vet.
Beannachtaí na mbliana nua dár léitheoirí go léir.
Peadar Ó Scanaill is a veterinary surgeon in mixed practice in Ashbourne, Co Meath, and a member of the Food Animal Group of Veterinary Ireland email@example.com Tel: 01 457 7976