Category Archives: Animal Health

Badger cull – How effective will it be in stopping bovine TB?

Research carried out by Durham University has claimed that the impact badgers have on spreading TB to cattle is highly overstated. Professor Peter Atkins of Durham University suggests that carefully arranged culling in South West England and South Wales may have a part to play in the reduction of bovine TB but elsewhere may not be justified or particularly effective.

This is contrary to the governments position, who feel their strategy for tackling badger numbers to is the right thing to do to reduce instances of bovine TB. Enivroment Secretary Owen Paterson has recently stated “Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action”.

The evidence Paterson talks about definitely exists, instances of bovine TB are higher in areas with badgers and it is medical fact that badgers do suffer from and carry the the same strain of mycobacteria which causes bovine TB. Atkins however suggests that when you look deeper things are more complex than they appear. He claims the Randomised Badger Culling Trial demonstrated the complexity of the issues and that badger culling was unlikely to be effective for controlling bovine TB. Atkins states culling attempts could even “exacerbate the problem” by driving badgers to different areas.

The one thing everyone agrees about is that bovine TB needs to be stopped with 34,897 cattle compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts in 2012. It seems there is a growing opinion that badger culling will not be as effective as first thought and that alternative measures need to be reassessed. Suggests include: vaccinating against bovine TB in cattle is forbidden by EU legislation but vaccinating badgers has shown some promising results; further research into an acceptable cattle vaccine and greater lobbying in Europe to make this a priority issue; improved testing; and tighter movement controls.

Subclinical ketosis – A growing problem?

I was reading this article about subclinical or hidden ketosis and was surprised to find it suggest an average 30% rate of dairy cows in the UK testing positive with hidden ketosis. The first thing that struck me was the company which commissioned the audit also happens to be selling a product to test for hidden ketosis. Hmm!

Firstly were the cattle tested a fair representation of UK cattle? The audit tested 763 cows of the 2 million dairy cows in the UK from 15 different herds. While I would suggest a wider ranging audit would lend more weight to the results they have tested a reasonable number of cows.

Experts have proposed the prevalence of hidden ketosis within a herd can be influenced by season. The audit was conducted between July 2011 and January 2012 meaning the entire spring season was omitted. Whether this makes a difference is hard to judge until a consensus is reached by experts on the seasonal effects.

Finally I investigated the BHBA testing threshold for testing positive. In the Elanco audit they used a threshold of 1000-1400 µmol/litre. The lower end of this threshold is quite a low compared that proposed by other sources which suggest 1200 µmol/litre[1], 1400 µmol/litre[2], 1200 µmol/litre[3], 1400 µmol/litre[4]. This would in theory produce results with increased positive tests.

One thing however that appears to be undoubted is that hidden ketosis is a real problem! Correctly monitoring your dairy herd is important from both a welfare and financial perspective.