National Beef Association
For everyone with an interest in the British beef industry

Safeguarding your herd when introducing new cattle

20th February 2015

Region: National

NBA kicks off plain English animal health campaign

The National Beef Association (NBA) is to publish a series of four guides on protecting the Health of the Herd, kicking off with potential issues when animals are imported.

These guides are the first in a campaign by the NBA Animal Health Committee, which was put together late last year to provide beef farmers with information about common health problems and their potential financial impacts on beef enterprises.

Minimising risk is key, during the next three weeks the NBA will look at:

•       Movement of stock

•       Bio-security

•       Planning and prevention

•       What is coming next

The NBA Animal Health Committee is made up of vets, farmers and breed societies from around the UK, and is chaired by NBA trustee Charlie Maclaren, a sustainable agriculture analyst from Dumfries.

He said: “We are looking at the safeguards farmers should put in place when importing animals from abroad, and will be issuing easy to understand information via fact sheets and social media feeds to help farmers spot and tackle diseases. We the NBA are the first organisation to do this.

“The campaign is in a user-friendly format to make it as simple as possible to highlight what farmers can do minimise risk and put protocols in place that they can tick off.

“Over the next few weeks, as well as providing up to date information on Johnes, we will go back to basics to cover some of the key things that farmers can do to limit diseases such as BVD, IVR, Lepto, and different strains of micro plasma from entering their farms.”

The first fact sheet looks at the health risks associated with importing cattle from abroad and introducing new animals to the herd that have been bought from other farms. The majority of cattle imported to the UK – 95 per cent –are for dairy herds and as soon as they arrive in the UK, there is the risk of cross-contamination. Initially, it is important to talk to the vendor’s vets to find out the herd’s health history. If you are buying from Denmark, this is a simple system because the country uses electronic tagging and each animal’s tag contains its life history.

However, bringing new stock into a herd, no matter how healthy, will always put pressure on the animals’ immune systems because there will always be new strains of a virus or diseases which will challenge. The same applies to the animals being introduced because they will be more susceptible to infection due to the stress of the move, new diet and environment.

In a case study in the North of England, a dairy farmer tackled the potential problem of taking on a second herd by keeping the two herds in separate sheds because merging the two would clearly have resulted in problems. This approach minimised any cross-contamination.

Mr Maclaren said: “We cannot smell, see or touch the viruses when we combine herds from two different areas.

“As we all know, disease can visit your farm at any time and will have arrived and established itself before you start to see any clinical or physical signs. What we need to do is to prevent, or if not possible, at least limit the ways in which diseases can enter.”

For all livestock farmers, minimising risk is without a doubt one of the most important issues to consider.

This first advisory fact sheet concentrates on stock movement and includes a simple to follow advisory protocol for importing cattle:

The Do’s of Stock Movement

•       Always insist on a blood test from an authorised laboratory.

•       If you are importing, it is imperative that you know who you are buying from and ensure that you are using a reputable importer. 

•       Check their references from other farmers and ensure that they will support you with the necessary paperwork and legislations

•       Do not use unscrupulous importers or those who do not have the necessary references

•       Take extra care when buying imported cattle from any auctions. Full traceability is vital.

•       Ensure that you know when the animals will be arriving, and to prevent any issues or problems at a later stage, have your vet on site on delivery of the animals.

•       Quarantine animals in a separate shed or field for minimum of 14 days with an optimum of 60 days if possible.

•       Check journey times - make sure animals are not lost!  In Europe all lorries are fitted with GPS, this enables both the time in transit and journey times to be monitored. Britain needs to follow suit.

•       If there are problems with transportation at any stage, ensure that the animals are held at an authorised staging post or lairage.

•       Do not be afraid to ask for your own extra assurances, these should include vaccinations for IBR, BVD and Lepto. These diseases are costly and can be eradicated.

The DON'Ts of Stock Movement

•       Accept previously blood tested animal before delivery – complete your own blood testing with your own vet prior to delivery.

•       Accept delivery at a short notice – you need to plan to ensure that everything is in place for the delivery, e.g. vet, holdings.

•       Do not purchase cattle that “must be sold today” at a reduced price. If they are being sold at a reduced price there will be a reason that they are reduced and it is not worth the risk.

•       Don’t rush into buying in stock without careful investigation and proper planning. If you do not get it right, getting rid of disease is far harder than prevention.

Mr Maclaren said: “Plan well in advance with your vet and an importer you know and can trust, then put together a practical but manageable protocol to follow and stick to it like glue.

“Do not take short cuts as it will cost you far more if and when it goes wrong.”

In the next stage of the guide, the NBA will look at bio-security safeguards.