BVD was first identified in New Zealand during the 1960s, and infections currently cost our cattle industry (both beef and dairy) over $150 million in lost production and $40million in BVD control efforts every year. At any given time, approximately 15% of dairy herds and 50% of beef herds are actively infected with the BVD virus.
BVD is one of the most complex diseases which affect cattle in New Zealand. How the disease is spread and how it may impact your animals varies depending on which aspect of cattle farming you are engaged with. Due to the intricacies of the disease, a comprehensive breakdown of BVD is beyond the scope of this website. Our aim is to provide you with a good understanding of the basics.
The ‘BVD Free New Zealand’ organisation is finalising the plan to begin an eradication programme fit for the NZ farming system; BVD eradication has already been successful in several countries globally. As part of their hard work, they have produced a fantastic user-friendly website that will give you a much more in-depth awareness of BVD. We strongly suggest you click on the link below to extend your BVD knowledge.
One of our major suppliers MSD has produced a number of great video resources which explain BVD (and other diseases). These provide clear, concise demonstrations of the infection pathways, health outcomes, prevention and control options for cows exposed to the BVD virus. We strongly recommend taking a few minutes to watch these. Links to these videos are supplied below under the appropriate headings.
The biggest impacts of BVD occur when a susceptible cow is infected whilst she is pregnant. This is because the virus can cross the placenta to infect the developing foetus. Depending on what stage of pregnancy the cow is in, the virus will have different effects on the developing foetus:
Persistently infected (PI) calves as mentioned above, result when unborn calves are infected between days 40-180 days gestation. These cattle cause the largest impact in herds as they are constantly shedding large amounts of BVD. They can easily infect hundreds of cattle in their lifespan, enabling the virus to stick around for a long time in a herd.
Due to viral damage to their immune system, they are much more likely to get sick from other diseases such as lameness, pneumonia and parasitism, and are often much smaller than their herd mates. However, some PI animals can look completely normal which means it can be tricky to identify them in a herd without testing individual animals.
These animals are often culled due to poor performance or die due to the development of Mucosal disease in their first two years of life. Mucosal disease occurs when these PI calves are infected with a different strain of BVD (sometimes self-infected following a mutation of the virus!), and they develop severe fever, lethargy, diarrhoea and ulcers that rapidly lead to death.
Any PI heifers that survive long enough to calve will always give birth to a PI calf, continuing BVD transmission within the herd.
We have a full range of BVD testing options available, but they can be split into two main groups; either testing to see if your animals have been exposed to the BVD virus or tests which look for the presence of virus itself in the sample taken.
If your stock have never been tested for BVD the simplest test is to measure the BVD antibody levels (exposure testing). This is done either through blood testing a small group of animals or, if possible, taking a milk sample from the vat.
When a milk sample isn’t available (young stock, bulls and beef animals) 10-15 blood samples are taken from randomly selected animals in the herd (or mobs of animals if testing different stock classes). Animals should be over 10 months of age and unvaccinated to prevent a false positive.
In dairy herds, a bulk milk BVD test can be used to check the level of exposure to BVD. It can be done anytime during the milking season but is best to do this test after calving to ensure all animals will be present.
If these screening tests reveal that your cattle have been exposed to the BVD virus, it can indicate that animals in the herd are either currently infected, or have been in the recent past. The next recommended step in these cases is to perform a PI hunt.
A PI hunt involves testing individual animals within the herd in search for the virus (antigen) which would indicate a PI animal. Persistently infected animals (PI’s) will be negative for antibodies to BVD since they are unable to mount an immune response but will show positive for the virus on antigen testing.
For a herd to be actively infected with BVD, a PI must be present somewhere in the herd which may be amongst the calves, replacement heifers, mixed-age cows, bulls and/or fetuses.
There are three big risk factors for BVD outbreaks:
BVD control hinges on two key points:
A farm doesn’t necessarily have to be being doing both targeted culling and vaccination to have effective BVD control, but without one or the other, any efforts are reduced to monitoring BVD as it infects your stock.
The most appropriate and cost-effective BVD control plan is as varied as our clients’ farming operations. There is no one ‘perfect’ BVD control strategy for all farms. The best plan is formed by consultation with your vet, this will allow you to develop a plan which fits with your farming system, budget and desired outcomes.