Seeking understanding of the issues - Veterinary Practice
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Seeking understanding of the issues

RICHARD GARD reports on papers presented at the 2009 congress of the BCVA

ON the first day of the BCVA
congress there are the initial
opening presentations for all
delegates that settle everyone down
and open up the little grey cells.

Decision time soon
arrives as the talks split
into the various
locations and the
headings do not always
offer a good indication
of the content and
quality that follows.
The fringe areas are a
voyage of discovery
and it was a delight to
share the discussions
in the Hereford room
after tea.

Many people will
now have become familiar with the
issue of Mr Evan’s friend’s cow that
Professor Joe Brownlie uses to highlight
the important debate about ownership
of disease. It was reported by Mr
Evans that his friend had a herd that
was not under TB restriction but that
close neighbours had recently failed the
skin test and that the time for testing
the herd was again due.

Mr Evan’s friend expected to fail
the test, and be under restriction for an
indefinite time, so he sold some of his
cows while he was legally entitled to do
so. So, who owns the disease?

We do not know whether the cows
were pre-movement tested but the
principle is set that the farmer believed
his cows to be infected but yet he was
prepared to risk passing on the disease
to other cattle. Should that be his
decision? He owns the cattle but does
he own the disease? What is the role of
the state, the animal owner and the
veterinary surgeon?

Decision pathway

There is a decision pathway where
some disease restrictions remove the
ability of the animal owner to sell the
infected cattle and those decisions
include clinical effect, economic effect,
risk to human health, etc. With some
diseases the detection of disease is
effective and with others more hit and

Ownership indicates responsibility
but the responsibility cannot lie purely
with the animal owner if he does not
have a full understanding of the risks.
Does the vet assume responsibility for
farm animal diseases? There was, as
expected, mention of BVD transfer
between herds. Disease ownership is a
major topic and, as Professor Brownlie
pointed out, “a challenge for the whole
livestock industry”.

Kathryn Ellis, from the division of animal production and public health at
Glasgow, reported that “veterinary
surgeons are not seen by consumers as
influencing animal welfare”.

A survey in
Scotland and the north
of England asked
members of the public
who had the most
power to affect animal
welfare and the
responses indicated:
government (38%),
consumers (27%),
farmers (13%),
supermarkets (13%),
vets (4%) and animal
charities (4%). The
survey concentrated
on UK dairy production methods,
welfare issues, dairy product purchasing and recognition of quality assurance

Interestingly, a large number of the
respondents (93%) said they would pay
more for dairy products if it led to
good animal welfare. Half of the
people gave UK dairy animal welfare a
positive rating, roughly a quarter said
they didn’t know and a quarter a
negative rating. Age of respondents did
not appear to influence the answers.

Common attributes

The most common attributes associated
with animal welfare were stated as:
appropriate feeding (39%), good
stockmanship (35%), plenty of space
(26%), free range (19%) and
environmental cleanliness (20%). Life
expectancy of a dairy cow ranged from
1 to 75 years with eight and 10 years
being representative of the majority of

Vets were given the highest rating
for reliability when providing
information on animal welfare (76%),
with farmers (65%). The media and
supermarkets were considered
unreliable sources of information.

Education of consumers via
labelling is considered as “flawed” by
the researchers, as few people understand how product
logos on labels relate to
production systems. It is
concluded that
veterinary surgeons are
able to improve and
audit welfare on-farm
and are a respected link
in the dairy food chain.

The challenge is to provide
meaningful, understandable, dairy
welfare indices and an interdisciplinary
approach including producers, retailers,
psychologists and veterinarians is

The cow’s view

If a bovine is to be examined or tested,
the farmer and vet have to be able to
handle the beast. Miriam Parker of
Livestockwise Ltd gave an enthusiastic
appraisal of baler twine and beyond.

An understanding of the view as
the cow sees it is essential to effective
handling, she said. The cow has limited
vision, sees the vet as a predator and
does not like moving from a light to a
dark area. Using a series of pictures to
demonstrate the practicalities, the use of
curves with crush facilities and
awareness of the flight area brought
home some handling basics.

The younger the animal becomes
used to handling events, the better the
outcome in later life. It is important
that the handler is on the inside of the
curve and that the cattle work around
the person. Positive handling events
should be put between negative events.

The example given was weighing as
a positive event and TB testing as a
strong negative. The emphasis was on
the physical requirements and the
psychology of the cow but it seems
likely that the approach of the farmer
to the task may also define whether an
event is positive or negative.

Net lameness index

Simon Archer and a team at the
University of Nottingham have been
researching the association between
mobility score and milk production.
Preliminary findings from this on-going work indicate the value
of a Net Lameness
Index (NLI), which
monitors dairy herd
mobility over time.

It is recognised that
the observer valuation
of mobility scoring is
similar to the approach with fluctuations in somatic cell count
and the information can be viewed in
the same way. Familiarity with NLI will
allow deterioration in the incidence of
lameness in a herd to be plotted and
appropriate targets set and intervention
levels established.

High yielding cows are more likely
to be lame and a severely lame cow
within a month of calving, and
persistently lame for seven months,
loses 1,000kg of milk production. A
reduction in yield has also been
observed four to six months after a
lameness incidence. However, lame
cows generally yield more than other
cows and the detection and treatment
of early lactation lameness is well worth
the effort of regular monitoring by
mobility scoring the herd.

The four presentations stimulated
some interesting discussions, which
were chaired with aplomb by Carolyn
Hogan. What appeared on the
programme to be disparate topics
moulded well. One of the advantages
of a smaller delegate group is the ability
to have an in-depth interchange of
views and experiences.

Practitioner assessments

Two presentations from practitioners
were particularly helpful in advancing
the knowledge of delegates. Both are
within the proceedings and deserve to
be read in full. Early on in the congress
programme, Peter Orpin highlighted an
effective and novel approach to Johne’s
Disease for cattle practices and Paul
Rodgers, in the final paper on the final
day, gave his view of the on-going
control of bovine TB in Wales.

A combination of quarterly testing
of milk samples, taken for milk
recording (, and risk-based health planning
( have been
shown to be well accepted by clients.
The twinned programme allows
veterinary surgeons and farmers to
develop a practical approach to control
MAP (Mycobacterium paratuberculosis).
Importantly, all cattle clients can be
involved with this programme, to
prevent and control, rather than
working only with those farms where
the disease has been diagnosed.

There are major difficulties with the
spread of MAP, both within herds from
infection transfer in the calving facilities
and pooled milk or colostrum, and
disease entry from purchase of
replacements (36% of surveyed herds).

Johne’s Disease is not an easy
subject and groups of 15-20 vets have
been found to be the effective size to
discuss aspects of the disease and
develop knowledge of the tools to
create appropriate control strategies for

Effective programmes

Veterinary practice farmer meetings
have followed the veterinary training
sessions. Further seminars are planned
and with more veterinary surgeons
within each practice agreeing on the
practical and technical issues, effective
local programmes have been developed.

The programme combines the
experiences of those who have been
working to control MAP since the
introduction of the industry scheme
five years ago.

Following a visit to New Zealand to
discuss the “three-legged stool”
approach to bovine TB control, Paul
Rodgers has produced an assessment of
the TB situation within the Whitland
practice in Carmarthenshire and the on-
going programme in Wales.

His conclusions are worthy of note
and general agreement: “The Intensive
Action Pilot Area (IAPA) in Wales will
demonstrate that applying all three legs
of the control stool can give gains in
bTB that are economically justified but
it will require co-operation and
enthusiasm from all parties to succeed.
There has been enough research and
trials, now is the time for innovative

The three legs are: testing and
removal of infected cattle and deer;
control of movement from infected
herds and areas of high risk of disease;
control of vector populations.

It is the third leg that is missing
from the current approach and the
paper clearly states that without it, the cattle measures will not work.
Detailing individual farm findings, as
well as the overall situation, the
indications are that the £27 million
allocated by the Welsh Assembly
Government over three years to
eradicate bTB will not be effective in
reducing the £30 million annual cost, without a cull of infected badgers.
Within the programme, £4 million has been earmarked for culling badgers
within a 300 sq km area (300 farms)
that borders the Whitland practice. The
final geography has not been defined
but it is likely that some clients’ farms
will be within the IAPA and some outside and it is likely that some
farmers will have land within and

Nearing completion

The application of a current skin test
for all herds in Wales is nearing
completion and 90 herds that were
negative for bTB have been shown to
be positive. The on-going programme
will include an increase in testing
frequency with a biannual test.

The practice took part in the
biosecurity visits to clients (37 of 86
farms within the area targeted) and use
of this tool has been revised to make it
easier to apply and motivate clients.
Analysis of the practice farm testing
records is available via TB Master (Lilac

Success essential

For veterinary surgeons within bTB
positive areas, the Welsh initiative has
to be successful if the disease is to be
controlled. Many vets and farmers in
areas that have seen minimal bTB will
be concerned that the detection of
the disease has been limited by the
testing interval.

There is an underlying point that
the control of badgers, utilising past
research applications of trapping, will
be very expensive and that there will
need to be industry participation.

Culling details and other practical
considerations will become more
important in the near future and
there will be intense discussions that
should include members of
veterinary practices.

  • Copies of the congress
    proceedings are in Cattle Practice,
    volume 17 (

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