But the formation of Animal Health Ireland (AHI) a few years ago was a great start to having a systematic approach to tackling diseases such as BDV on Irish farms.
The AHI, under the chairmanship of Mike Magan, a top dairy farmer, has made great progress.
BVD was the first disease targeted for elimination.
The initial voluntary phase was followed by a mandatory phase. Great progress was made, but is being held up because some farmers have retained their persistently infected animals (PIs).
This is very unfair on the farmers who are co-operating with the eradication scheme.
Compulsory steps are being taken to force more co-operation, including restrictions on the sale of animals with PIs in the herd.
It is still possible to have the disease eradicated by 2020, which was the original target.
Diseases and health problems are costing dairy farmers millions of euro every year.
Thankfully diagnostic systems have improved in recent years, and farmers are becoming more aware of disease symptoms. However many of the diseases in dairy herds are difficult to distinguish as the symptoms can be quite similar.
The first step is to work closely with your vet and get your milk tested through the co-op’s milk testing service or other source. Otherwise it will be very difficult to identify diseases.
Johne’s disease is also targeted by the AHI.
This is a very nasty wasting disease, with some perceived connections to human health.
The disease has a poor test programme and will be slow and difficult to control.
In contrast to BVD, where animals can be identified at a young age, it is usually only older animals that show up with Johne’s, but they are shedding bacteria from an early age.
Johne’s disease is an under estimated severe threat to the Irish dairy industry, and AHI is encouraging farmers to take part in a voluntary control programme.
There are very clear commercial benefits from introducing a control programme — which has been shown by the expansion of Dutch infant formula sales, due to having a Johne’s programme in place.
AHI says that if they could get 30% of Irish herds involved quickly, and grow that figure, they would make real progress.
As with any other disease, farmer co-operation is essential for progress.
AHI resurrected the Mastitis /SCC programme in the late nineties. Average SCC levels have been reduced by 40,000 with the introduction of this new Cellcheck programme, and the number of farmers with SCC under 200,000 is increasing rapidly.
Another disease targeted by AHI is IBR (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis).
Other EU countries have made strides in controlling IBR and BVD, and it is likely that Ireland will be prevented from exporting animals to countries with a higher disease status.
Already, our live exports reduction of nearly 21,000 head of cattle per year to Belgium has been hit by Ireland’s inferior national herd health status for IBR.
Belgium is one of eight countries in the EU with national IBR compulsory programmes, which include trade and transport restrictions.
Dairy farmers who are not vaccinating for IBR can find out the IBR status of their herd with a simple bulk milk sample test. Where the herd is vaccinated for IBR, individual cows should be tested to identify IBR carriers.
Like many other diseases, IBR control is mainly based on bio-security together with strategic vaccination.
Farmers must make sure not to buy in the disease.
If purchasing animals, blood tests and quarantine are necessary.
A carrier stock bull or a vasectomised bull is a common point of entry for IBR into many herds.