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Welsh Black Disease Control

The control of the debilitating Johne’s Disease in the Welsh Black Cattle breed serves as a template for other breeds to follow, according to the Society’s President Bruce Lawson.

Mr Lawson FRAgS, a retired senior partner at a Dolgellau veterinary practice, as veterinary advisor to the Welsh Black Cattle Society, has co-ordinated the battle against Johne’s since 2000.  He says a big factor in reducing the incidence of the chronic wasting disease is commitment to a firm plan of action.

Mr Lawson, a past President of the Society in recognition of his work, said: “I am full of praise for the way Welsh Black breeders have embraced the Johne's disease control scheme and proud of the success that they have achieved.  The result is that 95% of all the cattle entered into the Welsh Black pedigree sales in 2012 were accredited to risk level 1 for Johne's disease.

“The Welsh Black is numerically a fairly small breed, compared to something like the Limousins and so, suddenly, the effect of the disease became more obvious. One herd would be selling cattle to a lot of other herds and spreading it.

“The same has happened in other breeds, but it was very noticeable in the Welsh Blacks and we were getting complaints in Council. So they were determined to do something about it.

“If you’re selling breeding stock, I think the time has come today where you should be participating (in the scheme) because purchasers who have been bitten before don’t want to buy stock in that are carrying Johne’s disease.”

Mr Lawson’s work with the Society has been geared to reducing the spread of the disease from herd to herd, to controlling it within infected herds and to identifying clean herds.  The risk-based approach grades herds on a scale of 1 (lowest risk) to 5 (highest risk) in terms of infection.

Herds need to have three clear consecutive annual tests of all animals of two years and older in order to gain Level 1 status, with the lowest risk of selling infected stock. Level 2 herds have had one or more clear herd tests, with Levels 3 & 4 depending upon the number of reactors in the herd while Level 5 herds are those that don’t have a health plan in place or are not participating, so posing the greatest risk of Johne’s disease.

Mr Lawson says he considers that at least 40% of herds in Britain are carrying Johne’s Disease. An animal could look perfectly well while incubating the disease, then the stress of moving to a new farm would bring the animal down, seeding Johne’s in the new herd.

The condition is not thought to be hereditary, although newly born calves tend to be very susceptible. The MAP, the Mycobacterium paratuberculosis bacteria, is shed in the faeces, can be found in the colostrum and in the milk and can be passed through the uterus via the placenta, making the newborn or unborn calf very susceptible.

The best control combined testing and culling, with husbandry and hygiene improvements, such as cleanliness at calving, and protecting calves from contaminated feed and water. Winter and autumn calving could be an issue in that calves have to be kept in longer in an often dirty environment.

Calf Colostrum for High Health Status Calves

A calf colostrum free from antibodies and viruses associated with IBR and EBL, as well as Johne’s disease bacteria, is being offered by G Shepherd Animal Health (GSAH) of Preston, Lancashire. It has been described as a major breakthrough towards ensuring that all calves, particularly pedigree animals, maintain their high health status.

First Thirst IBR elite calf colostrum is a freeze-dried, pure colostrum which provides new-born calves with vital protection against three of the main bovine diseases at a vulnerable stage in their lives. It has been proving very successful, when fed to animals of high genetic merit and with AI potential, as well as for calves destined for export.

GSAH managing director, Graham Shepherd, who is also a qualified veterinary surgeon, says:

“Our experience within high health herds and the AI industry has encouraged us to develop First Thirst IBR elite. It allows calves from breeders and AI studs to meet all the required rigorous health test protocols as early in their lives as possible. First Thirst IBR elite delivers pure colostrum which is rich in immunoglobulins and free from IBR antibodies – both of which are paramount to calf survival and the ability of the calf to pass all necessary health tests early in life.”

Veterinarian, Paul Burr, endorses the concept of a specialised calf colostrum which can help breeders to maintain an accurate picture of herd health and meet buyers’ standards. Mr Burr is the managing director of Edinburgh-based company, Biobest, which runs the HiHealth Herdcare Cattle Health Scheme.

“Calves fed colostrum containing IBR antibodies may test positive for IBR antibodies in blood samples, until they are older than nine months of age,” says Mr Burr. “Using a colostrum that has been tested free of antibodies to IBR is a sensible way of avoiding this problem.”

First Thirst IBR elite calf colostrum is available in either 250g sachets or within the unique Perfect Udder feeding bags, which include a screw-on teat or stomach tube. Perfect Udder bags provide the calf with minimal bacterial loading, due to their cleanliness, and offer the farmer ease of use at feeding time.

To find out more about First Thirst IBR elite calf colostrum and how to order the product, visit www.gshepherd.co.uk or call 01772 690333.