Some 200+ delegates from as far as Europe, South America, New Zealand, Australia and all parts of the UK attended the virtual 2021 BVDzero Congress to hear the lessons learned, successes and weaknesses of Scottish BVD eradication programme.

Read more: BVD movement ban for Northern Ireland

Dr Jenny Purcell from the BVD policy team in Scottish government shared information and examined how to make progress with the tail end of an eradication programme.

She also stressed that the Scottish scheme was industry-led, and then backed by government with legislation. As it followed the health schemes already in existence, the scheme focussed initially on the breeding herd which was a strength in the early days but possibly a weakness as time went on.

“The focus on the BVD status of the breeding herd made sense as it was all about preventing the production of PI calves,” she said.

“Back in 2010, it was voluntary and initially cattle keepers were invited to get herds tested to check their status.”

However, following the shift to a compulsory scheme in 2013, a phased approach was adopted, which placed more onus on producers and also stricter penalties for those that failed to comply.

Read more: More farmers engaging with BVD survey

Dr Purcell showed how the numbers of negative herds has increased since the scheme was introduced with now around 90% of herds being BVD-negative.

“One of the most important messages to take away from this journey so far is that it shows how engaged Scotland’s farmers have been with BVD eradication throughout the course of the scheme,” she added.

“We allow cattle keepers to choose which test is best for their situation; allowing farmers the flexibility promotes engagement with the scheme. And, having serology testing as one of those choices farmers can opt for gives us an advantage. At some point, surveillance on the national herd will be part of the scheme, possibly with serology testing so the fact that farmers are familiar with it will help in the future,” Dr Purcell remarked.

As with previous reviews of the Scottish scheme, the BVD advisory group’s work was recognised as important. “Involving vets in the scheme from the beginning is really important – frequently, farmers cite vets as their most trusted source of advice so their involvement is hugely valuable,” Dr Purcell said.

The farmer database operated by the scheme is highly functional and used by several different groups as both a management and an enforcement tool. It works hand in hand with the ScotEID helpline, which represents the friendly face of Scotland’s BVD eradication scheme.

“Together, they are really important especially at this potentially complex stage of the scheme. We expect a lot from our farmers and it’s really important to provide friendly advice when needed,” stressed Dr Purcell.

Some of the points raised by Dr Purcell were also noted as potential weaknesses in the scheme, primarily its complexity, including the different testing options and the fact that it was set up to focus on the breeding herds.

“There are very few obligations that non-breeding herds have to comply with which could mean that these producers could be putting neighbours at risk if they bring cattle on to the farm without testing,” she explained. “These animals could be PIs but equally problematic are the Trojan cows who could be carrying a PI calf but which the producer doesn’t know about until later testing.”

So what’s coming up for Scotland?

“We don’t yet fully know – it could be a focus on Trojan cows, possibly paying farmers to remove PIs, we might want to raise the obligations for non-breeding herds – all of these will be considered by the BVD advisory group over the next 12 months,” explained Dr Purcell who also reminded delegates that future change will be open to public consultation.

What will eradiation look like for Scotland?

“There probably won’t be zero levels of BVD, but a very low prevalence and that is something that the group will be looking at over the next year. We are also working on how surveillance will look going forward,” Dr Purcell concluded, adding that providing farmer engagement remains high as it is currently, the eradication of BVD in Scotland is a very realistic prospect.

Congress organiser, Matt Yarnall from Bovela® manufacturer’s, Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health added: “The session from the Animal Health Ireland team had many points in common with Dr Purcell’s talk. While less time has passed since the Irish scheme was launched, the goal has been set of being free of BVD by 2023.”