SIX months before Orkney was able to declare itself BVD free, a positive result for the disease has been found on the island, with a total of eight animals, to date, being culled.

No persistently infected cattle had been identified on the island for more than 18 months, and after two years clear, it would have been declared BVD-free – but the positive screen on an in-calf heifer in March this year has stymied that.

The heifer in question came from the South-west of Scotland, and was purchased in April last year, and the buyer purchased the animal in 'good faith', having been told that the herd they were purchasing from was clear – and therefore no testing was carried out when the heifer arrived on Orkney.

A statement was released by the Orkney Livestock Association, which said that the discovery was 'catastrophic' for the farmer involved, who remained unnamed, and that Orcadian farmers complacent about BVD should take note.

"All bought-in cattle should be isolated and tested before being mixed with the existing herd, unless there is proof to show the animal is BVD-accredited in the form of a copy certificate from the owner or breeder," said the OLA.

"We are confident that the recent BVD breakdown has been contained, but that could so easily not have been the case. It was fortunate that the persistently infected heifer and/or her calf were not grazed over the fence from neighbouring cattle.

"The economic impact in this case has been considerable, due to extra testing of the herd, and the disposal of eight persistently infected animals to date," it added. "There has also been a higher incidence of disease in all age groups, and an increase in calf deaths."

Asked if he believed farmers in the South-west of Scotland were failing on BVD control, NFU Scotland president, Andrew McCornick, who farms in the South-west, said: "There isn't a reluctance in the South-west to get rid of the disease, but it has taken a lot longer to do it because of the high concentration of livestock in the area. It's becoming harder and harder to not engage with eradicating BVD."

Regional vice chairman of NFUS, David Scarth, who farms at Twatt on Orkney, expressed his disappointment at the delay in the island becoming BVD-free, and added: “After years of hard work, Orkney was very close to being BVD-free, so this breakdown is a disappointing set back.

“It simply highlights how difficult it is to eradicate BVD, and underlines the need for vigilance when sourcing stock. We can’t let our guard down, as this is a clear reminder of how quickly the disease can spread within a herd when something goes wrong.

“Indications are the incident has been contained and the work towards BVD-free status for Orkney starts again.”

OLA was launched in 2001, and at that time, more than 45% of Orkney's farms were, or had recently been, infected with BVD, but that has since dropped to 5%, with some "hot-spots", the OLA said.