A beef farmer is calling for bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) vaccination in cattle to be made compulsory after he bought unvaccinated calves that later succumbed to the disease.
James Winslade said farmers are fed up buying infected calves that develop sickness later and have to be put down.
Mr Winslade, who farms in Bridgwater, Somerset, paid £580-£600 each for a dozen suckler calves in November 2017.
See also: How to apply for BVD-free herd status
He bought the spring-born calves from a local market, but when they got to 16-17 months old, four of them started to lose weight.
Mr Winslade said: “I kept them and fed them all last summer. They started going back in the autumn.
“We did a worming regime and everything as we should. But four of the calves lost condition. They were sh*tting out and just went to skin and bones. I had them tested and it was BVD.
“Some of them will survive, but you will never get any weight on them. They are just a hat rack. Others will die or you have to put them down.”
He said he tried to fatten up two of the calves as much as he could, but they did not put on much weight and were sold deadweight for £315 each – a £280 loss, not to mention the cost of keeping the animals fed and housed.
Calves put down
Two other calves were losing so much condition that they had to be put down.
Mr Winslade said he would willingly pay more for cattle that have been vaccinated for BVD.
“You inject them once and then one month later and then they are covered. Then the next year, you only inject them once,” he added.
But Mr Winslade thinks some farmers are trying to “scrimp a bit of money” by not vaccinating cattle they intend to sell on.
“It’s self-defeating because if you worm them, you get more money for them,” he said.
“You might save a small amount of money at first, but it does have a knock-on effect the next year when the cattle get sick.
“If the farmer inherits a problem, it has a negative effect.”
The NFU and vets groups have been trying to raise awareness among farmers about the importance of vaccinating cattle against BVD.
BVD is one of the most damaging cattle diseases in terms of economic cost and welfare, causing abortion, infertility, failure to thrive and even death. It results in significant welfare problems and financial losses on the farm – approximately £45 a cow a year in beef herds and £15,000/year in an average 130-cow dairy herd.
The voluntary BVDFree England campaign – which aims to eradicate BVD from England by 2022 – currently has 3,175 holdings registered, totalling 391,536 breeding stock (21% of England’s total breeding stock).
The campaign is working with similar BVD-eradication programmes in Scotland and Wales.
In Northern Ireland, an industry-led scheme to eradicate BVD has been supported by legislation since 2016. Beef and dairy farmers are required to tag and test all newborn calves and the movement of positive animals between herds is prohibited.