By Debbie James

Wales has reached a significant milestone in its bid to eradicate bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) from the national herd with a government-funded screening programme testing its 5,000th herd.

Peredur Hughes who, as chairman of the Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework Group was the driving force in encouraging the Welsh Government to fund the initiative, said the uptake by farmers had been very encouraging.

The programme, which got underway in September 2017, runs for three years. At the end of that period, Mr Hughes hopes the government will consider implementing a mandatory testing programme.

“The Welsh Government through the Rural Development Programme has made £10 million available therefore farmers must make full use of this because, given Brexit, future funding for programmes is uncertain,’’ he says.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for farmers to get their herds screened at no cost to them.’’

With every beef and dairy farmer in Wales encouraged to participate in the Gwaredu BVD screening programme, the Stabiliser herd at Hendre Arddwyfaen, near Corwen, has become the 5,000th to be screened.

Gwion Owen, who runs a large herd of Stabilisers at Hendre Arddwyfaen with his father, Ifor, suggests it is in the interest of every farmer to have their herds screened.

“It is important for our own herd health status that we keep our cattle free of BVD. Without screening we cannot be certain that is the case.’’

The screening at Hendre Arddwyfaen was timed to coincide with a routine visit by the farm vet. The test results were available three days later and all the animals tested negative for BVD antibodies.

“The whole process was very quick and easy and didn’t cost me anything,’’ Mr Owen reports. “I now have the reassurance of knowing that my herd is free of BVD which is so important for cow fertility and many other reasons.’’

The economic impact of BVD is a consequence of direct deaths due to abortions or from mucosal disease in older cattle. It also results in reduced performance and production when a persistently infected (PI) animal remains undetected within a herd.

PIs shed the virus and this suppresses the immune system of animals, resulting in reduced growth rates and fertility.

Gwaredu BVD is being managed jointly by Coleg Sir Gâr’s Agriculture Research Centre in partnership with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).

John Griffiths, manager of the Agriculture Research Centre, who is also chair of Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework’s BVD eradication sub-group, says the initiative is a flagship programme and the industry must pull together to prove it can deliver on this.

“Scotland and Ireland have made significant progress in eradicating BVD, Wales now has the opportunity to mirror that,’’ he says.

Dyddgu Williams, of Wern Vets, who screened the herd at Hendre Arddwyfaen, says subsidising tests and subsequent PI hunts had been a useful incentive in persuading farmers to better understand BVD and its implications.

“We have had a 100 per cent uptake from the clients at our practice,’’ she reports. “The real strength of the scheme is how easy it is for farmers to get involved.’’