“Find out what your BVD status is. Don’t be afraid of the answer.”

21st Jul 2021

South Wales farmer, Abi Reader is an influential figure within the agricultural industry. Through support from our eradication programme and working closely with her vet, she has been testing regularly for Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD). With a Gwaredu BVD ‘Bronze Status’, Abi is proud of the herd she keeps, but admits it has come with its challenges over the years. We caught up with Abi to chat about her experience using our voluntary programme.


Q: Hi Abi. Can you tell us how you first heard of the Gwaredu BVD programme and how you came to start using it?

A: We saw a lot of noise in the Farming press. A lot of farmers started talking about it and I heard the news through my own veterinary surgery, and decided I wanted to be part of it.

Q: Was your vet actively encouraging participation with the Gwaredu BVD programme?

A: Yes, they brought it up in conversation with me. We’ve got a really good relationship so we’re always chatting about things that might be in the pipeline.

Q: That’s good! And what support have you received from the programme so far?

A: We did our first year of tests and everything went fine, so we took the bloods, the results came back for our TB reading day, and that was great. The second year we took bloods and when those results came back, we did have a positive reading. We decided what animals we were going to retest, how many we wanted to do, and we looked at the funding available to help us.

There was a possibility that we had a PI. We’ve got high biosecurity here and only one neighbour- they have a three-metre fence with a big, high hedge in the middle of it although we didn’t rule out a PI.

I think we tested about 90 animals, and everything came back negative. So, in the end we put it down to a transient infection – something that had just gone through quite quickly and hopefully all was well.

We tested again in our third year and everything was negative. We’ve continued to monitor the situation and we keep an eye on biosecurity.

Q: How did you find the process of youngstock screening and PI hunting?

A: The actual gathering of samples for a PI hunt can be time consuming, but you can’t really afford to let BVD sit around in the herd, so it is time well spent. It’s a very simple process- getting that group of youngstock out, considering which ones you’re going to test and why, and any potential direct contacts.

BVD is a very easy disease to eradicate from your herd, and it gives you more time to focus on the other diseases. If cows have got some sort of infection, some sort of burden of disease, without a shadow of a doubt it opens them up to other issues, and it’s just cost after cost after cost. It’s important to get on top of it before it multiplies in your herd and becomes even harder to control.

Q: How important is it for you as a farmer, that your vet is completely on board with the programme as well?

A: It’s absolutely vital, because there would be so many bits as farmers you don’t understand - you won’t understand the jargon, or why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what it all means. Your vet is there to translate it into ‘farmer speak’ and what you need to know. You need to filter out everything other than the essentials that matter to you, and then they are there to help deal with the outcome.

Q: Considering mental health, when you found that the result was positive for BVD, how did that make you feel?

A: Finding the positive results, it can make you feel a bit ashamed. It makes you feel you have missed something. Then there’s a bit of a panic- what costs are involved, who might be the PI, and what you’re going to do with it. 

Constant dialogue with my own vet at the time made quite a difference and helped me. It helped me to have a plan in place, as to what we were going to do. Then we went through the testing process, and everything came back negative.

There was a relief then and we wanted to try and get back on the certificate ladder- Gwaredu Bronze, Silver, Gold status. We were on Silver status so it was a case of gaining Bronze again and working back up.

Q: The status you just spoke about, the BVD programme gives farmers who screen negative a certificate to say they’re BVD-free - how have you found those certificates?

A: They are useful, I submit my certificate once a year to my milk buyer because they want to know my BVD status. It’s always quite satisfying to scan that certificate and send it through and say this is what we’re doing.

Q: Have you spoken to any other farmers about their certificates and their status at all?

A: Yes, amongst dairy farmers here everybody is quite keen to be able to prove their credentials in terms of what they’re doing for disease control. So to have something physical to say ‘this is what you’ve put in place’ really is quite important.

Q: Do you think these types of programmes make farmers think more about the impact of buying and selling with BVD?

A: I hope so, especially with everyone having a collective effort, everybody’s talking about it. You certainly hear a lot more people, especially calf rearers, talking about it and they like to advertise calves for sale as Gwaredu BVD free. It’s definitely becoming a talking point, and quite important.

Q: What advice would you give to farmers who either haven’t yet screened their herds because they haven’t felt the need to, or farmers who have got a positive animal but haven’t taken the next steps to eradicate it?

A: For farmers that haven’t yet participated - it’s so important to give it a go, it’s free so why would you not do it? Get on the progamme, find out what your BVD status is, don’t be afraid of the answer, be afraid of what you can’t see at the moment. These things are simply worked through. It’s not that complicated to work through it with your vet and get an action plan in place so it doesn’t mean it’s a disaster to your herd. It’s all manageable. For farmers who found PIs the message is: please be responsible and deal with that animal. We all have to make a collective effort here to get it out of Wales, it’s not going to take long if we all stand together.

I think as farmers, especially farms in Wales where there are a lot of smaller farms, we spend a lot of time on our own, dwelling on things. If you let this rumble on and carry on and every time a vet comes out onto the farm and you’ve got a sick animal, you’re always wondering if you’re going to get that question ‘have you tested for BVD?’. So, to be able to say back ‘yes I have and we’re clear’, does mean a lot. It’s just one of those other things that you haven’t got to worry about.

Q: How important is it for you that your neighbouring farms are all on the same page with you about BVD?

A: So important!  There’s a lot of worrying about boundaries. To be able to shut down that avenue and say it’s ‘got nothing to do with my neighbours’, just gives you a bit more peace of mind.

Q: We talk a lot about Gwaredu BVD’s aim of the programme - to eradicate it from Wales - but on an International/UK level, why is it so important that we all work collaboratively to do this together?

A: I’ve just talked about my neighbours- I could be right on the border and my neighbours could be from England. As we know with all other diseases, it doesn’t recognise England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. We trade animals between us, we have to trade animals for various reasons, so we need to have faith in one another that we’re trading healthy animals and that we’re not going to contribute to a re-spread of the disease. So, we all must take responsibility.

Q: Do you think there’s further work that the programme could do to amplify this message?

A: There’s always need for further work, I think, but the support is there now. Support and encouragement is key for farmers- sometimes it’s helping farmers understand why they may not necessarily find a problem – a bit like us, we didn’t find a PI, but that didn’t mean that we didn’t have a problem. The more we all talk and understand what we can do on our own farms, the better the situation will be across Wales.

Q: Going forward, what personal measures are you going to take to ensure your herd stays BVD free?

A: We’ll absolutely continue doing the BVD testing. It’s easy, you do it once a year with your TB test. It’s an excellent way of making sure that you’re keeping an eye on the level of disease in your herd. Then there’s the extra step of making sure we’re on top of biosecurity as well, because it’s one thing to find out whether you’ve got it in the herd, but it’s another to take that extra step to keep it out.

Q: And how important is it for you that the eradication of this disease could potentially become legislative?

A: I think that’s really important because there’s always going to be some people that for one reason or another won’t want to engage. But I don’t think we will ever be free of BVD unless it becomes mandatory, and we're all made to work together on this longer term. I think that, as an island, we’ve got so much promise to get rid of this disease. I visited Germany a couple of years ago where they’ve eradicated it and they have nine countries on their borders. So, if they can do it, we can definitely do it too.

Q: Is there anything from your point of view that you’d like to mention?

A: Our BVD status is part of our credentials now so we’re talking about Wales and brand Wales, and our extremely high welfare standards. This is an easy one for us and an essential win that we need to flagship. If we’re thinking about trying to bring more income into our farms from more overseas trade, this is going to be a requirement that the world is going to be asking us to do. I think it’s a very cost-effective means to keep an eye on disease levels in your herd.

Q: Any final words, Abi?

A: I think the important thing in this particular case study is the drive to do it and get out from under a potential problem even if you didn’t find a PI and you didn’t have necessarily huge clinical signs. That drive to deal with the problem quickly and as efficiently as possible is the key thing/message to get out to other farmers. It a bit of work, let’s not pretend it isn’t, but the benefit of doing it outweighs any potential work. As a farmer, you will feel better about your farming, having dealt with the issue.