Is Bovine TB a threat to your dream herd?

If you’re nursing dreams of a herd of your own you need to consider some of the potential pitfalls that may stand in your way.  One of the most insidious is Bovine Tuberculosis, or TB. This is a disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium Bovis that domestic cattle are particularly susceptible to.  In cows, the disease typically goes unnoticed until it reached an advanced stage at which point the following symptoms may be noticed.

  • weakness
  • loss of condition & appetite
  • swelling of various lymph nodes
  • persistent cough and respiratory distress
  • and eventually – death.

The reason for such concern, aside from the loss of animals is the potential for the disease to jump to human beings.  Though uncommon, there is the potential of significant harm to humans should they become infected and while treatment exists it is complicated by the resistance of many strains of Bovine TB to antibiotics. Transmission to humans typically occurs through consuming unpasteurized milk products, but can also happen less easily through exposure to infected animals.

Furthermore, once established in a herd the virus is very infectious quickly infecting other members of the herd if given the chance. It is typically passed through aerosol methods or cows catching it from the exhaled breath of other cows.  But it can also be caused through shared drinking facilities or transferred from a mother cow to a calf via their milk.

Because of how infectious it is, the Governments in the UK and throughout the EU require immediate action by law. Where Bovine TB is discovered, infected animals must be removed from the herd and slaughtered to control the spread.  Though compensation schemes exist in most countries, the loss of otherwise quality animals can have serious consequences for the health and prospects of a farmers herd.

Ways to Protect from a Bovine TB outbreak

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as they say and so any sensible famer takes action to prevent a TB outbreak in their animals. In many countries, like the UK, routine testing for the virus is part of the requirement for keeping a herd.  Tests can identify if an animal is infected and if one is determined, they must be quarantined away from other animals until such time as they can be slaughtered.

Better than stopping an outbreak is preventing it ever happening of course. Some ways a farmer can prevent TB getting into their herd include:

  • Keeping Farm Equipment cleaned and disinfected. Especially where shared between other farms and where visitors from outside the farm have been.
  • Mindful Groundskeeping – Especially where boundaries are concerned, if possible cows should be kept in a way that nose to nose contact between herds is not possible. Thought should also be given to shared watercourses between farms.
  • Know Your Animals History – Testing isn’t always effective. And while buying in new animals is almost always a required part of managing a herd long term, there is always a risk of bringing disease including TB when this happens.
  • Limiting Contact with Wildlife – Unfortunately, many wild animals can also carry TB and become a potential vector of infection. Badgers in particular have a reputation for spreading the virus. Though there is some controversy over how significant Badger to Bovine cross infection is, it is still prudent to ensure that wildlife has as little access to herds and their food stuffs and water sources as possible.

Bovine Tuberculosis is sadly a fact of life for farmers of dairy and beef cattle alike. But the risk can be mitigated through planning and use of best practices.

At ADL, we have a range of livestock courses that focus on best practice for raising and keeping herds and flocks.  If you’re looking to start a new career in animal husbandry, why not speak to one of our course advisors to learn more?




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