IS IT time to bite the bullet on Johne’s in cattle? The answer is a big fat ‘Yes’ and it would appear that the industry is finally coming to terms with the fact that it does need to sort out a scourge that could be a clear and present danger to the industry as a whole.

While many view it primarily as a ‘dairy’ disease, it is known to also affect beef cows, many of whom were bred from the dairy herd at some point in their parentage. Its effects can be devastating on the health and welfare of the animal infected and costly for the owner.

Given that the industry is under seemingly relentless attack from desk-top vegan terrorists, it appears that milk buyers are getting jittery about diseases such is this. And maybe, in the long-term, this will be the engine that drives change in attitudes towards this disease – and probably some other diseases, like BVD, too.

What really would help in this respect is a ‘big data’ approach and some blue sky thinking. And for that, we need a big push for EID in cattle and that means a compulsory system like that for sheep. For it to mean anything tangible, this has to be a UK-wide project – disease knows no borders and the more data, the more useful it will be.

However, unlike electronic tags in sheep, this has the potential to deliver real benefits, not only for commercial cattle farmers, but also for those involved in producing breeding animals and processors in the food chain. As well as disease control measures, the use of smart tags will deliver tangible production benefits driven by the knowledge gained at every part of the production cycle.

The potential for being able to produce useful data that can be used by all farmers is huge, but it needs to be driven by the industry itself. They are the ones who will instantly see production traits that suit their systems and give them knowledge of what will serve them best and make them money.

All sorts of management potential would be opened up by intelligent use of intelligence gained from using the data produced, all the way through from calving to an animal hanging up by the heels or reaching the end of its milk production days.

However, the key word here is ‘intelligence’ – and we must ask ourselves, do we have enough brains out there to see above the blue skies and cut through the meaningless guff that ‘big data’ will inevitably produce.

That is a big question – and the answer is that they are out there, and they need to be listened to.