Steps to prevent the spread of TB within your herd

The Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) eradiation scheme has been in place for 67 years in Ireland, with the scheme costing €97.3 million in 2020.

TB can be one of the most financially crippling diseases to come onto a farm. A sentence no farmer wants to here is the vet confirming a positive reaction to a TB test within the herd.

The accuracy of TB testing has been discussed on more than one occasion, with some farmers beyond annoyed with the current testing protocols.

Sarah Tomlinson, a vet based in Derbyshire, England, stated that: “The tuberculin skin test (also known as the Mantoux tuberculin test) is only at best 80% accurate, meaning that 20% of animals that should test positive don’t.”

This means that one in five TB infected animals are a false negative.

TB

The best line of defence against an out-break within your herd is to try and prevent the disease from entering your farm.

These steps may seem simple but they could help prevent the stress caused by an outbreak within the herd.

One of simplest measure that can be used to prevent the contraction of TB – and other diseases – is ensure that your boundary fencing is stock proof.

Your cattle and your neighbours cattle should not be able to make physical contact with each other.

The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) now has TB scores for bulls. If TB is an issue in your area you should consider using bulls that are genetically resistant to TB.

Culling

You should reduce the risk of residual infection. If you had a previous TB outbreak you should consider culling older cows, that may have been exposed to the infection.

Consider the culling of cows that tested inconclusive in a previous test. This may help to reduce the likelihood of you having a reactor in a future test.

Wildlife

Preventing the contact between wildlife and livestock is an important step in prevention of an outbreak.

Ensure that all your sheds and particularly your feed stores are wildlife proof.

Avoid the feeding of concentrates on the ground, a trough should be used for feeding livestock concentrates. Where possible these troughs should be at least 1m off the ground.

You should inspect your farm regularly for signs of wildlife activity i.e. badger sets.

If you locate a badger set on your farm, you should fence off the area from livestock and inform the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

Isolation

The best policy is to avoid buying in animals to limit the chances of TB entering your herd.

If you are purchasing in cattle you should be careful about the herd they are sourced from. You should enquire about the TB status of the herd and if the herd has had an outbreaks recently.

Where possible, try and only purchase cattle from a herd that has been clear of TB for a number of years and has been recently tested.

Purchased cattle should be isolated and given a full health check, including a TB test to protect your herd.

Contract rearing has become popular on dairy farms in recent years, with many farmers seeing the benefit of removing their replacements off-farm.

Although it has many production and management benefits, biosecurity may be an issue.

Biosecurity should be discussed with the contract rearer, including how an outbreak of TB would be handled – on either the home farm or the rearing farm.