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How the Gwaredu BVD programme has supported cattle farms in Wales

An agricultural project aimed at eradicating Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) in Wales has published its findings about the impact that the project has had across Wales.

The Gwaredu BVD programme, based at Coleg Sir Gâr’s Gelli Aur campus, aims to identify and eradicate Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD), a disease caused by a virus that induces immunosuppression and reproductive failure in cattle which can cause abortion, infertility, deformed calves, increased cases of calf pneumonia and poor herd health.

This virus is highly contagious and can be spread through simple means such as animal housing and transportation.  It is sustained and spread through the presence of persistently infected (PI) animals in herds. PI animals occur when a naïve cow is exposed to BVD while she is pregnant.

The Gwaredu BVD programme involved voluntary participation and between September 2017 and December 2022 85% of all Welsh cattle farms took part in the programme.

A total of 9,369 out of 11,000 Welsh cattle farms were screened for BVD, which was a process completed at the same time as the annual TB testing to make best use of veterinary expertise and animal handling on farms. From the screening of those farms, Gwaredu BVD found that 27% of farms screened BVD positive in 2018 and in 2022, this had reduced to 23%, resulting in 77% of farms being BVD free.

Gwaredu BVD introduced BVD certificates in gold, silver and bronze for farmers who screened clear enabling them to share their BVD free status when selling stock, to promote informed purchasing.

All farms who received antibody positive results as part of their annual screen were entitled to additional project funding to support them to identify any PI animals and between September 2017 and December 2022, 1,582 suspected PI animals were identified.

There is no cure for PI animals and infected animals will continue to experience ill health resulting in continued antibiotic treatment whilst the animal feeds to fight disease rather than for farm production. Half of infected animals are likely to die before reaching production level.

As a result of Gwaredu BVD’s work, the Welsh Government launched a consultation in the Summer of 2022 to gather the industry’s opinion on compulsory BVD screening.  Lesley Griffiths, AM, announced in January 2023 that the Welsh Government is working towards “bringing legislation forward in the next financial year”.

Key to the success of the project is the participation of every large animal vet practice across Wales and the project’s steering group which consisted of Coleg Sir Gâr, RVC, NFU, FUW, Iechyd Da, Milfeddygion Gogledd Cymru, SRUC, Farming Connect, AHDB, HCC and BVA.

John Griffiths, programme manager for Gwaredu BVD, said: “With the support of Welsh Government funding, there has been an increased focus on BVD eradication in Wales which has enabled us to achieve the Welsh Government’s ambition of following other leading UK regions in efforts to eradicate the disease.

“We are thrilled to have been able to identify, bring awareness and begin to address a problematic issue within the agricultural industry which affects animal health and farm productivity.”

The team will soon be further utilising their expertise to work on a new project this year, called Gwaredu Scab which is funded by Welsh Government to help eradicate sheep scab, one of the most contagious parasitic diseases of sheep in the UK.

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