Bought in PI heifer identified as the reason for 29 out of 40 calf deaths on Wexford farm
Farmer Paul Barden, Co. Wexford faced devastation when only 12 calves survived after buying a PI heifer in 2013. Forced to purchase 28 weanlings in Autumn 2014, Paul now urges people to vaccinate for BVD before it’s too late.
A bought-in heifer caused BVD devastation for Wexford suckler producer Paul Barden, resulting in the loss of over half of his calves in spring 2014.
Paul, who farms at Donooney, Adamstown, has been in suckling since 2003. He calved 50 cows in 2013. All calves were tissue-tagged and were negative for BVD. Paul was very conscious of disease prevention.
Cows were vaccinated against leptospirosis, salmonella and scour and he also had an IBR vaccination strategy in place. Because he had operated a closed herd, he did not feel the need to vaccinate against BVD. Similar to every good farmer, Paul weighed up the biggest risks to his herd. In summer
2013, he bought in eight heifers. And that is when the BVD horror story began.
“I noticed one of the heifers was not thriving as well as the rest, but I had no reason to suspect there was anything seriously wrong with her,” said Paul. In September, 53 animals were scanned in-calf, including the bought-in heifer. Paul had little reason to be worried. But everything changed when the cows started to calve in 2014. Paul tells the gruesome story:
Nightmare – “It was an absolute nightmare. Forty cows calved – the rest had lost the calves since scanning, including the bought-in heifer which was now empty come calving time. Of the 40 calves born, we finished up with 12 animals that lived. “Some were born dead or died immediately after birth. Over 20 lived, but got pneumonia and scour and anything else you could think of. With a lot of help from my vet Tomás O’Shea of Moyne Veterinary Clinic we tried to keep them alive, but they failed to respond to all treatments. They were in a shocking state.
“In the end, I agreed with Tomás that the only option was to put them down. Out of over 50 cows that went to the bull the previous spring, we finished up with 12 calves. The 29 that died or were put down were all PIs.” When the first signs of the impending disaster began to appear, Tomás blood-tested all breeding stock. The suspect bought-in heifer tested as a PI. She was immediately removed from the farm.
The cows that did not produce a calf were sold. All remaining breeding stock were given a primary and booster vaccination with Bovilis BVD in advance of last year’s breeding season. Annual BVD vaccination is now a rigid part of Paul’s animal health programme.
He was forced to buy in 28 weanlings last autumn “in order to keep up numbers”. The number of cows due to calve this year has dropped to under 40, a mixture of Salers, Limousin and Hereford crosses. His aim is to get back up to 50 cows and sell the progeny as forward stores or beef. It has been a very difficult year for
Paul and a financial nightmare.