This week Animal Health Ireland appeared before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline its overall strategy and to provide members with details of the various animal health programmes which it is co-ordinating and leading. Committee members expressed particular interest in the four programmes prioritised for action by AHI – bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), mastitis / somatic cell counts (SCC), Johne’s disease and Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR).
Deputy CEO and Programme Manager for the biosecure diseases, Dr. David Graham, informed the Committee that the level of farmer compliance with the BVD programme in 2013 has been generally very good, with test results on the ICBF database for over 97% of all registered calves currently. As of 3rd June, 1,559,978 results had been recorded on the database in the period since 1st January, and the prevalence of test positive animals, at 0.73%, is very close to that which had been modelled by AHI prior to the commencement of the programme. Dr. Graham agreed with Committee members that the overall rate at which persistently infected (PI) animals are being retained on farms (approximately 50%) is a cause for concern and stated that the AHI Technical Working Group on BVD is currently examining the potential impact on the programme objectives and timelines of the retention on farms of these highly infectious animals.
Ms. Finola McCoy, Programme Manager for the CellCheck programme told the Committee that high somatic cell counts (SCC), which are an indicator of mastitis, have a major impact on the profitability of dairy farmers and dairy processors. The CellCheck programme adopts a multi-disciplinary approach, which involves the farmer, veterinary practitioner, milking machine technician, co-op milk quality advisers and Teagasc or other farm adviser. To date, some 240 service providers have been trained to deliver farmer workshops, approximately 40 of which have taken place to date this year. Programme resources which have been developed to date include the CellCheck Farm Guidelines, the CostCheck economic cost calculator and a detailed milk quality report, which is available to all farmers involved in milk recording. Ms. McCoy agreed with various of the Committee members that the programme objective of reducing the national average bulk milk somatic cell count to 200,000 cells/mL or less by 2020 is very achievable. However, one of the major difficulties faced to date has been the collation of national statistics on SCC performance. AHI has been working with the Department of Agriculture and ICBF to establish a national SCC database, which, once completed, will provide a much clearer picture of national milk quality performance and enable the establishment of detailed reduction targets.
Summing up, Joe O’Flaherty, CEO, stated that, in his view, AHI has made significant progress in relation to its mandate in the period since its establishment in 2009. He acknowledged the strong support of industry stakeholders and the Department of Agriculture and praised the work of the members of its Technical Working Groups, which provide their services to AHI free of charge. He also referred to the critical role played by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation in providing the database services which are fundamental to the operation of the various programmes. Finally, he noted that the development of a coherent all-island approach to the various diseases being prioritised by AHI is possible thanks to the extremely close collaboration and good relations which have been developed with Animal Health and Welfare NI.
Please click here to access the opening statement by AHI to the Committee, which contains further details of AHI’s presentation.
14 June 2013
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