Working closer with vets has helped a Powys farming family tackle an infectious wasting condition in their herd.

Gary and Anwen Orrells and their daughter and son, Elin, aged 22, and 19-year-old Jonny, have partnered up with Farming Connect and their local vets to wipe out cases of Johne’s disease in the beef herd.

The family farm a mixture of owned and rented land across 1,170 acres at Abermule, near Newtown, and in Shropshire, where they have arable, beef and sheep enterprises and diversified income is generated from renewable energy and DIY livery.

Their system was found to have a significant weakness; after their first calving, some animals lost body condition and Johne’s was suspected as the cause.

In 2019, the Orrells family embarked on a blood testing programme with funding from Farming Connect. Samples revealed that of the 32 heifers tested, five were positive for Johne’s – a 16 per cent incidence rate. Those animals were sold as non-breeding stock.

After a subsequent annual programme of testing and removal, in 2023 there were no cases of Johne’s identified in the 31 mostly homebred heifers.

Gary said the support from Farming Connect had been invaluable.

“We have a great connection with our vets, they put us in touch with our local Farming Connect development officer, Elin Williams, and she signposted us to the blood testing service and other services too,” he said.

“We also have a small herd of pedigree Limousins so the health status on our farm as a package has to be perfect.’’

They also found issues in their closed flock of 1,200 breeding ewes too, related to drench resistance.

Gary admits he had “no inkling’’ that there could be an issue with drench resistance but when weaned lambs started to under-perform it was a red flag.

To establish if there was an issue, he embarked on a Farming Connect focus farm project, with faecal egg counts taken from fat lambs; these were sampled before drenching and also 14 days after treatment, to establish the efficacy of white, yellow and clear wormers.

“Nematodirus is the parasite we have concerns about until the lambs are six to eight weeks old so it is reassuring to know that if we don’t overuse white drench, they are still effective,’’ Gary said.

The Orrells family now only use white drench in the spring to protect lambs against nematodirus and mixed grazing with sheep and cattle is also used as a tool for controlling pasture worm burdens.

Elin Williams, Farming Connect Development Officer for south Montgomeryshire, said the family had consistently taken a progressive approach by continuously reviewing business performance and identifying areas for improvement.

“The work done here showcases that regularly evaluating and monitoring performance along with seeking advice and testing, when necessary, can lead to significant gains,’’ Elin said.

“As the Orrells family has done, I would encourage any business to get in touch with their local Farming Connect Development Officer to discuss their needs as some services could prove to be valuable and lead to improvements, as the Orrells family have demonstrated.’’