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Lameness and endemic infectious disease continue to hamper productivity in the beef and dairy sectors, confirms a major survey. Major study identifies key disease priorities in livestock

Lameness and endemic infectious disease continue to hamper productivity in the beef and dairy sectors, confirms a major survey.

A step-change is needed in farm management to combat the problem, concludes the study by the Ruminant Health & Welfare (RH&W) group, which polled farmers, stock people and vets on priority livestock diseases and syndromes.

Results suggest lameness-related problems and endemic infectious disease continue to be key issues eroding production efficiency – compromising the wellbeing of both the cattle and sheep sectors.

On the cattle side, the survey confirms that digital dermatitis and Johne’s disease remain major threats to the beef and dairy sectors. Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea also ranked highly.

Recurring threats

“These results are some of the first that truly take into account those at the coalface of farming, who deal with these diseases on a daily basis,”  said RH&W chairman Nigel Miller.

“We will now take these results forward to a workshop where priorities will be discussed, existing interventions established and gaps identified where RH&W could facilitate or speed progress and overcome barriers.”

Mr Miller said the priority status of viral pneumonia was a recurring threat on many holdings. At a time when vaccination programmes are at the centre of the health management debate, this may increase interest in that proactive approach.

More than 600 people responded to the survey. Amey Brassington of the AHDB, who analysed the results, said the disparity between vet or consultant and farmer views was one of the most interesting findings.

“These differences of opinion may be a result of vets having a broader range of experience than farmers. Equally, vets are only called out to issues that cannot be dealt with by farmers. 

Top issues

Fly strike was a typical example where farmers led its treatment, said Dr Brassington.

Colin Mason, board member of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, said it was reassuring that the survey had confirmed digital dermatitis and lameness among the top issues in cattle – but concerning that they remained so damaging.

“Equally, fertility, mastitis and youngstock disease continue to be headlines that must be addressed,” said Mr Mason.

But there was good coherency in the survey between specific diseases and syndromes – for example digital dermatitis to lameness, and viral pneumonia to calf disease – and that only added to the weight of the findings.

On the sheep side, parasitic disease and lameness were problems. Foot rot scored highly, with its corrosive impact on body condition and welfare. Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD) also received a high score.

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “we have solutions to many of the common diseases that are causing problems, but the challenge is that putting them in place on-farm creates challenges.”

A disease workshop will now be held on 29 June. Bringing together vets, farmers and researchers, it will attempt to identify barriers, goals and interventions to rectifying livestock disease problems.