VACCINATION and quarantine have become familiar parts of our everyday lives for more than a year – but they are routines farmers have long been accustomed to.

Since foot and mouth disease decimated Welsh, and British, farming in 2001, the industry has had to get to get to grips with tighter and tighter regulations.

It was following the foot and mouth outbreak that John Yeomans decided to tackle potential infections head-on with a routine vaccination programme for sheep and cattle at his Llwyn y Brain farm at Adfa, near Newtown, in Powys.

“There was foot and mouth all around us and fortunately we didn’t lose any stock,” said John who began routinely vaccinating against bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) at the time.

Many farmers lost entire stocks as widespread culling was used to try and control foot and mouth.

The rural economy ground to a halt, with livestock markets closed for months and, similar to the lockdown introduced last year due to coronavirus, the countryside was shut down with footpaths closed and events cancelled.

The experience of a local farmer, who had inadvertently bought what is known as a persistently infected animal as he attempted to start a new herd, proved a cautionary tale and made John think what preventative measures he could take.

“One of our vets said a farmer, who’d lost stock to foot and mouth, had then bought one of these persistently infected animals.”

John, who farms with his wife Sarah, said the couple then took the decision to start vaccinating.

“We felt it was protecting our herd, our neighbours and as we sell store cattle and breeding stock it protects our customers as well.”

Similar to how Covid-19 has spread due to asymptomatic carriers being unaware they were infected, farmers have had to be alert to the risk of buying in stock which may be carrying BVD.

“I think they are called iceberg diseases, you can’t necessarily see them, but with the persistently infected animals you wouldn’t know they are ill. You could buy one in and have no idea until the disease is in your herd.”

BVD, which is a viral disease in cattle, can impact on their immune system and also cause reproductive failures including increased incidents of abortion and reduce fertility as well as cause pneumonia in affected stock.

Animal Health and Welfare Wales, which is a partnership between Coleg Sir Gâr and the Royal Veterinary College, runs the Gwaredu BVD programme which provides free BVD testing for cattle farmers and has been extended until the end of 2022.

John has welcomed the extension of the testing scheme and would recommend other farmers take advantage of it.

“My dad always used to say prevention is better than cure. There always seems to be a new challenge around the corner, it could be disease or legislation, so if it’s something we can prevent it’s better to stop the fire before it spreads rather than be a fireman.”

 

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To keep on top of the health of the herd a vet will also test a sample of young calves for BVD when routine bovine TB testing takes place and farmers, like the Yeomans, can be assured their herds are accredited as disease free.

Since the testing scheme was launched in 2017 more than 8,600 herds, which is around 80 per cent of herds in Wales, have been screened with around 2,446, or 26.1 per cent, having tested positive.

The Farmers Union of Wales warns an infection could cost dairy farmers up to £15,000 in total.

Ian Lloyd, the FUW’s animal health and welfare committee chairman said: “We know that BVD is costly and estimates suggest that this disease can cost £4,500 per year for the average beef herd, and £15,000 for dairy herds through associated issues such as lowered milk yields, poor fertility, diarrhoea and respiratory problems.

“We encourage members to participate in Gwaredu BVD and urge them to take advantage of this additional funding in order to determine the status of their herd and to work towards eliminating the disease where any issues are found.”

For John Yeomans vaccination and testing is just another precautionary step taken on the farm to prevent against possible infections.

The family run a herd of around 73 cows consisting of pedigree Limousin, Limousin cross, Belgian Blue cross, and 15 homebred replacement heifers which are a closed herd meaning they family do not buy in female heifers.

When buying bulls they will do so from farms with standards as good, or better, than their own and that have also been vaccinated. When selling animals Sarah makes sure their passports are stamped with a sticker with their health status.

New animals bought on to the farm are also quarantined and other measures taken include providing water from troughs to try and prevent the cows from drinking from water courses, which John tries to fence off, and animals are kept away from those on neighbouring farms.

The farm stretches to 270 acres, with a further nine acres of rented land used, and it sits between 750 feet and 1,420 above sea level and its boundaries are protected with double fencing where a hedge is placed in the gap between fences.

“I’m a big believer in double fencing and I’ve said to the Welsh Government they should be rolling out double fencing for all boundaries it could really help stop infections as you can’t get any nose-to-nose contact,” he said.

“Good fencing means being a good neighbour.”