Seeking sustainability - Veterinary Practice
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Seeking sustainability

Richard Gard reports in November’s BCVA congress in Killarney

Over 400 delegates to the BCVA congress in Killarney in November managed to negotiate the complexity of the travel arrangements, many arriving for the “meet the council” gathering and dinner on the first evening.

Although the members of BCVA council were there, all suitably identifiable and engaging in deep and significant discussions, the evening was really all about meeting friends and settling in.

The first inkling of the support received by the BCVA was in evidence with Norbrook sponsoring the drinks reception. This company also sponsored the student stewards who were on hand throughout to guide and support the social and technical proceedings. Nine speakers in all were sponsored, by companies with an interest in their topic and sponsors for a range of supporting items were evident to make life easier for delegates.

Following registration the next day the hub for contact and refreshment was the commercial exhibition. Glancing around the stands there was considerable emphasis on improved testing regimes for BVD and Johne’s, bluetongue vaccination, a new cattle licence, rehydration, coccidiosis control, communication tools and bold claims such as “the only NSAID you can trust” and a canister of prep wipes in every vet’s car and on every farm. Computer access and collection of data was promoted in detail.

At the AGM, John Blackwell was confirmed as president for 08-09 with Keith Cutler as junior vice-president and Carl Padgett as senior vice-president; Andrew Praill and Declan O’Rourke continue as hon. secretary and hon. treasurer respectively.

The John Tuckey prize for the best paper given by a practitioner was awarded to Roger Scott for his study of oedema and the BCVA Presidents Award, for the best overall paper, to Peter Nettleton for his paper on IBR.

Managing a healthy future

With over 50 papers, more than a dozen workshops and a smattering of commercial presentations, there was plenty of information, advice and challenge during the three days of congress, which was run jointly with the Cattle Association of Veterinary Ireland, and a whole day was given over to bovine tuberculosis.

Copies of the full range of papers are within Cattle Practice, available from the BCVA office (

Professor Liam Downey opened the proceedings with an in-depth assessment of the need to harness existing knowledge in order to build a sustainable, competitive agriculture and rural economy.

Sustainable competitiveness can be considered to be a “value-added marketing strategy”, he said. A shift is taking place from farming subsidy to farming knowledge.

One of the ways forward is to recognise that genetics creates the potential for production and health but nutrition delivers that potential. Health issues for the dairy cow are linked to the cow’s inability to cope with the metabolic demands of high production with unsuitability of the nutritional conditions provided.

An “animal nutrition knowledge platform” needs development. Criticism was levelled at researchers who expect knowledge transfer to happen by a process of osmosis whereas “weak technological absorptive capacity is an inherent feature of most small enterprises”. Transfer is demanded from a “knowledge economy” to an “innovation economy”. An increase in veterinarians serving farm animal practice is required and value added gains are available to producers, processors and the consumer.

Knowledge transfer

The transfer of knowledge was demonstrated by Joep Driessen, with an entertaining presentation of “claw signals”. These form part of the growing Cow Signals enterprise with books and videos available for veterinary and farmer use.

It is important for the vet and the farmer to look for solutions together, with emphasis on the look.

Observation of cow behaviour is the issue with some guidance towards the importance of what is observed. Joep often challenged the audience with a picture or piece of video and asked, “What do you see?”. Damage to the backs and hocks of cows, from inadequate cubicle set-ups, is more apparent perhaps than gait.

There were some one-liners of note: “One sick cow costs as much as 40 healthy ones”; “Claws grow at half a centimetre a month”; “Keep cows off hard surfaces”; “Use NSAIDs for pain relief ”; “Have a stress-free calving line”. In-depth explanation is available at


Professor Dominic Mellor (Glasgow) introduced the issues related to veterinary public health and Professor Katherina Staerk (RVC) put forward the need for cross disciplinary collaboration for the protection of public health.

It was stated that 60% of human infections are zoonotic with direct and indirect human-animal contact. For veterinary surgeons the limits of responsibility for public health are not clear. Failures to include disciplines with specific relevant knowledge are likely to lead to faulty risk assessments with late, patchy, or misdirected interventions.

Antimicrobial resistance is an example of a complex, dynamic system, with resistant bacteria and resistant genes able to persist in food chains as well as the environment. An assessment of risks and interventions requires specialists from veterinary and human medicine, microbiology, toxicology, pharmacology, plant and soil sciences as well as evolution biology.

The “one health concept” is gaining recognition. Barriers to collaboration arise from a lack of understanding of roles but can be overcome by personal contact between professionals. It is difficult to clearly define procedures and communication lines in advance to deal with zoonotic emergency situations, due to the large variety of scenarios.

Veterinary practitioners are the first line of defence and early reporting and vigilance are essential together with evidence based advice to clients.

Keeping up with BVD

For up to date BVD information, Professor Joe Brownlie (RVC) encouraged access to where PowerPoint presentations are available for use with client meetings. There is now a strong veterinary opportunity to learn how to control and eradicate an endemic disease without government leadership. Individual veterinary practices and farmers are taking up the programme and the next co-ordinated effort is to link the initiatives of local vets.

There are easy, effective and good diagnostics available for BVDV but there are also continual improvements, so it is important to keep up to date, he said. Comparisons with control in other countries indicate that GB is lagging behind. Five elements form part of other programmes, which GB lacks: a national strategy, common technology, central surveillance and monitoring, a strong educational policy and adequate funding and resources.

GB veterinary surgeons consider that BVD is a primary disease for control whereas farmers nominate TB. Within the areas that are practising BVD control, the benefits are now being recognised with a fall in the use of pneumonia drugs and a fall in the need for rehydration products. The calves are fitter. The GB option is to cull infected animals, control PIs and vaccinate. Vaccination only is not effective. The call is for education and unity to work towards an effective BVD programme.


Michael Sexton (Bandon) gave a practitioner’s view of BVD diagnostics and control from the Irish perspective. Tests for the farmer need to be cheap and quick and also not involve too much work for the vet with unpaid record keeping.

The veterinary surgeon must be able to offer a product to the farmer that is usable. Interpretation of the milk tests needs to ascertain whether active BVDV is in a herd and to assess the risk of persistently infected animals. Biosecurity is a major issue and needs to be in place if the test, cull and vaccinate programme is to be sustainably effective.

Jonathan Statham (Bishopton Veterinary Group) discussed ways forward with herd health management. Drawing on the experiences of the veterinary surgeons and their clients who took part in the BCVA Cattle Initiative Project, he said there was an opportunity “to genuinely make a difference to the health, welfare and production of herds under veterinary care”.

Additionally, concern about the impact of livestock farming on climate change represents “a fresh veterinary opportunity” for health management to balance food production, with welfare and the environment.

The thrust of the BCVA initiative is “to measure, manage and monitor”.

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