Survey confirms producers link between BVD control, improved calf health and reduced antibiotic use

Survey confirms producers link between BVD control, improved calf health and reduced antibiotic use
The 2019 National BVD survey was the fourth time that this annual survey has been run, and this year it attracted a record 1,243 respondents. Organiser of the survey, Boehringer Ingelheims Matt Yarnall, who is brand manager for market-leading BVD vaccine1, Bovela®, explains that the survey is organised in conjunction with the four regional eradication programmes and partner publications British Dairying and Beef Farmer as well as the NBA. He also states that, due to the different stages of the regional programmes, some questions are tailored differently for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland in order to reflect these.

As the survey is in its fourth year, we can make year-to-year comparisons, Mr Yarnall says. We can also compare between regions and spot trends, which, again is invaluable.

Insert graph 1 geographical spread


Slightly more dairy (279) than purely beef units (199) took part and, as in previous years, the average herd size was above the national average at 184 for dairy farms and 64 for beef farms. Around half of respondents were all-year-round calving.

With producers in England able to take advantage of free BVD testing and vet support as part of the Stamp it Out initiative, it was disappointing to note that almost as many English producers arent aware of the testing (209) as are planning to take advantage of it (216),Mr Yarnall states.

Interested producers do not need to be currently participating in the BVDFree England voluntary eradication programme, they simply need talk to their vet.

The proportion of English producers using tag and test continues to increase, at 33% up from 27% in 2018. However, in-line with previous surveys, only 42% of producers are tagging all calves born, dead or alive.

Tag and test is a really useful surveillance tool, which quickly and cheaply indicates the presence of the virus. But, all born calves must be tested alive, stillborn or dead, he says. Stillborn or dead calves may well be the ones carrying the virus so not testing them could mean disease goes undetected.

Just under two thirds of English producers that state they run closed herds, again something that was interesting once the detail was examined.

A closed herd, run properly, can be a very effective way of protecting your stock from disease challenge, but all too often, a closed herd is not really closed, Mr Yarnall observes. Analysis of the data shows that 2% of these closed herds rear calves away, 19% bring in bulls, 2% buy in heifers or cows and 1% purchase fattening stock (Graph 2).

These are not closed herds and huge a huge biosecurity risk. But what is perhaps more concerning is that 10% of these herds do not currently vaccinate meaning they are naïve, so hugely vulnerable should virus be introduced, he states.


The Scottish BVD eradication programme has been running since 2011 and, in the survey, significantly more beef (290) than dairy units (65) were represented. As for the England respondents, they were above the average herd size.

Around 60% of producers reported never having had a not-negative (positive or inconclusive) BVD test result. Interestingly, the majority of producers (51%) have seen an improvement in herd health since engaging with the BVD eradication programme, which is a real step forwards Mr Yarnall comments.

The majority of producers had noticed an impact on decreased disease in calves (106), followed by improved fertility (81) and decreased antibiotic usage (57), which is certainly a hot topic at the moment.

Any way to minimise disease and so, antibiotic use, is important and BVD control clearly has a role to play here. he adds.

Ear tag testing is popular in Scotland with 44% of producers favouring this approach, but it remains a concern that 56% of producers only tag calves born alive and dont tag dead or aborted calves.

It was, however, encouraging to see the majority of Scottish producers vaccinating, and 60% vaccinating because they value it as an insurance policy, Mr Yarnall sums up.


As with the Scottish sample, there were more Welsh beef (102) than dairy respondents (61) and herd size was above average.

In line with what we have seen in the other regions, 56% of herds were described as closed, but perhaps encouragingly compared to England, only 12% of closed herds brought bulls onto the farm, he comments.

The Welsh BVD eradication programme was rolled out in July 2017, and over 50% of herds have since tested according to Gwaredu BVD.

That said, it is disappointing that 26% of producers were not aware of the programme; still work to do! says Mr Yarnall.

But, perhaps the major concern from the Welsh sample was that 44% of producers had identified a PI previously, yet, almost half (42%) of these would not cull them immediately (Graph 3). This opens the door for the disease to spread and take hold in a herd; it is a really unwise policy.

Northern Ireland

More Northern Irish purely beef (95) than dairy respondents (87) took part in the survey and, as with all the other regions, the average herd size was slightly above average.

With the compulsory Northern Irish eradication programme now approaching the end of its third year, 22% of respondents stated they had seen a decreased level of disease in calves and 12% had seen a decrease in use of antibiotics.

The majority of producers used the BVD vaccine that they described as the best vaccine for the job and the best ease of use.

In a box:

Factors noticed when BVD is controlled (ranked)

  • Decreased level of disease
  • Improved fertility
  • Reduced antibiotic use
  • Better weight gain


A questionnaire was posted out, and also available on-line to complete. Using multiple choice options, producers were able to give information about the BVD situation in their herd, what experience, if any, they had of the disease and how they seek to control it.

Throughout the UK, marginally more beef units than dairy units responded (58% vs 42%), but this generally reflects the higher prevalence of beef farms in the country.

  1. Kynetec (2019) BVD vaccine sales by value, for the whole of 2018

Bovela lyophilisate and solvent for suspension for injection for cattle contains modified live BVDV-1, non-cytopathic parent strain KE-9: 104.0106.0 TCID50, Modified live BVDV-2, non-cytopathic parent strain NY-93: 104.0 106.0 TCID50. UK: POM-V. Further information available in the SPC or from Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd, RG12 8YS, UK. Tel: 01344 746957. Email: [email protected]. Bovela is a registered trademark of Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica GmbH, used under licence. ©2019 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health UK Ltd. All rights reserved. Date of preparation: Feb 2019. AHD11946. Use Medicines Responsibly.

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