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Cocktail of diseases now costing dairy farmers more than €100m a year

A slew of diseases that have become endemic in the Irish dairy herd are continuing to cost the sector well over €100m a year.

Milk tank tests carried out throughout the past year by Progressive Genetics (PG) on hundreds of herds revealed that 95pc of herds had tested positive for BVD, while more than 70pc of non-vaccinated herds tested positive for IBR. Eight-out-of-10 herds were exposed to recent infections of BVD, while half of the herds that tested negative at the start of the year encountered BVD infections during the year.

The herds involved in the survey were tested up to four times during the year by PG.

Veterinary Ireland's Frank O'Sullivan said the results confirmed that these diseases were costing farmers well over €100m a year.

"Herds that had to re-populate over the last 10 years often had horrendous trouble where average size herds were literally losing tens of thousands of euro every year," he said.

"During the upcoming expansion phase, this could get even worse. BVD is a good example of the damage a few infected animals can do. Despite the fact that less than 2pc of the national herd are persistently infected animals, they have managed to expose 95pc of the herd to the disease."

Some 71pc of non-vaccinated herds tested positive for IBR, with the vast majority returning a high positive, indicating recent exposure to infection. Of the herds that started the year free of IBR, one in seven experienced outbreaks during the subsequent 11 months. Approximately 25pc of herds tested were vaccinating for IBR.

Only 7pc of herds tested negative for leptospirosis, indicating that the rest were either exposed to the disease or vaccinating.

Neospora infection is also on the move within dairy herds, with 5pc of herds that tested negative at the beginning of the year testing negative for the disease at the end of this year.

Mr O'Sullivan claimed that neospora was now the number one cause of abortions in cows and that farmers shouldn't be relying on vaccinations to get on top of the disease challenge.

"Farmers can't afford to rely on vaccination to mask sub-standard management. Instead, they are going to need good housing, nutrition programmes and parasite control measures to keep these diseases under control," he said.

Johne's was also examined, despite the lack of sensitivity in the milk bulk tank test that may be allowing infections in some herds to go undetected. PG's Laurence Feeney said it was possible for the actual figure to be two-to-three times higher than the 1.5pc that tested high or medium for the disease.

Two thirds of the 650 herds tested returned a high or moderate reading for liver fluke, indicating cows had been infected for the previous 12 months.

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