Protecting cattle against the increased risk of infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) outbreaks during the winter, needs proactive disease control, according to an expert.

“Winter is the perfect storm for infectious diseases, especially IBR. The stress of winter housing can reduce immune system efficiency, which paired with the higher stocking density experienced when livestock are housed, increases the risk of viruses spreading from animal to animal,” said Dr Stephanie Small, MSD Animal Health's dairy veterinary adviser.

“The virus is primarily a respiratory disorder, but it also causes reduced fertility. Once infection has occurred, IBR establishes a lifelong latent infection in individual cattle, which can be reactivated at times of stress.”

The disease has been shown to cost the farming industry up to £36m each year, however, on-farm protocols can prevent IBR taking hold in the first instance. “IBR vaccination reduces the likelihood of naïve animals becoming ill and spreading the disease by shedding the virus,” Dr Small explained.

It is recommended that farmers take a whole herd approach to IBR prevention, starting with youngstock vaccination. “Farmers can start IBR vaccination from three months of age with a single dose primary course of Bovilis IBR Marker Live. This should be followed by a booster six months later, and an annual booster dose every 12 months thereafter.

“In addition, farmers can vaccinate calves from two weeks of age with an intranasal dose of Bovilis IBR Marker Live for earlier protection, before starting the vaccine programme at three months of age.”

To reduce the risk of introducing IBR-infected animals to the herd, biosecurity measures are also crucial, she added. “If you are buying in cattle, only buy from known sources. Isolate any incoming stock for four weeks, test for antibodies, and only introduce test-negative animals to the rest of the herd.

“Building design is also key to preventing IBR. A well ventilated, draught-free environment helps to minimise the risk of any respiratory disease circulating in the air and spreading between animals more quickly. Appropriate stocking levels are equally important to maximise air quality,” pointed out Dr Small.

“It is more cost effective to focus on preventing diseases rather than treating the impact. To protect herd health and productivity this winter, speak to your vet about the best approach for controlling IBR on your farm.”