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Animal health focus for Magherafelt BDG farmers

August 23, 2021

Summer 2021 has seen the welcome recommencement of on farm Business Development Group (BDG) meetings. One of which John Palmer, Moneymore beef farmer hosted for a suckler beef group, based in Magherafelt and Draperstown area.  John provided the group with a farm tour, allowing discussion on animal performance and grassland management before handing over to Lindsey Drummond, Veterinary Researcher and Head of Diagnostic Bacteriology for AFBI.

Lindsey went on to deliver a presentation on Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) and mycoplasma, identifying the signs of dullness, reduced appetite, high body temperature, fast, heavy breathing and coughing along with fluid discharge from the eyes and nose.  In a simple case of respiratory disease in a suckler calf, it is estimated to cost £82.  This cost comes from reduced growth rate, a combination of medicines and vet call out charges, increased labour and mortality.  The largest of these costs come from the lung damage reducing DLWG by up to 0.2kg/day and even mild lung damage has shown to cause poorer carcase quality.  Studies have shown that when 30% of cattle in a group environment show actual signs of BRD, a further 40% show lung damage at slaughter.

This cost of £82 will increase significantly when retreatments are necessary, therefore Lindsey encouraged farmers to minimise stress, maximise immunity and consider vaccination.  Vaccinating for Pneumonia will provide the animal with protection and reduces the exposure within the group.  Consult your vet and create a vaccination plan that will be sustainable and regularly review it to keep up to date.  Make sure to read directions for storage, reconstitution and administration as every vaccine and medicine will differ.  Be aware of the time until onset of immunity and when administrating plan ahead to minimise animal stress and allow the vaccine the best possible conditions for success. 

Lindsey went on to discuss Mycoplasma Bovis and its association with bronchopneumonia.  M. Bovis, when associated with pneumonia can occur at any age and outbreaks are common in areas such as feedlots.  Following the initial respiratory presentation, it can be followed by polyarthritis.  M. Bovis is capable of causing pneumonia independently or coupled with a complex of BRD and where viral infections have caused the initial damage.  Therefore, the individual animal’s immunity is important in fighting the Mycoplasma pneumonia, emphasising the need for adequate passive transfer of immunity for young calves.  Where viral infections have caused the initial damage it can weaken the immune defences of the respiratory tract.  Similar to other Pneumonia pathogens, non-specific respiratory diseases can be affected by a variation of elements, including viral pathogens, altering environmental temperatures, heat or cold stress, transport, over-crowding, and poor air and nutrition quality in the house. 

After discussing the causes and implications, Lindsey went on to advise the group on how to manage and control M. Bovis.  Depending on presentation and severity of an outbreak the control can be challenging, but it is key to reduce stressors and avoid immunosuppression.  It is very important to consider the herd’s status in relation to immunosuppressors such as BVD virus, Salmonella Dublin and parasites when investigating such outbreaks.  Reduce the herd’s exposure to M. Bovis in milk, airspaces and when challenged with a potential case, segregate and isolate the animal immediately from the rest of the herd to reduce the risk of spreading.   It is equally important to maximise immunity through high quality colostrum, adequate feed and space and maintain high levels of hygiene within the house.

The key messages that the BDG left with were to minimise stress wherever possible, plan and maintain a health plan with your vet prior to housing, watch out for potential increasing resistance to parasite treatments and antibiotics and maximise your herd health where possible. AFBI provide a full post mortem diagnostic service at both Omagh and Stormont sites to aid the investigation of such disease outbreaks.

The Business Development Groups scheme is part-funded by the EU through the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.