Galashiels beef farmer proactive in fight to beat disease

A beef farmer in the Borders has taken matters into his own hands to help protect his cattle from a devastating disease

Grant Maxwell's Shorthorn beef cattle

A beef farmer in the Borders has taken matters into his own hands to help protect his cattle from a devastating disease.

Grant Maxwell, of Galashiels, has tested all his calves in order to identify any positive Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) can be identified in days by animals in his new herd.

As well as causing scour, BVD also causes infertility and depression of the immune system. There is also a huge cost implication for the farmer if BVD is detected in a herd.

It is reported BVD is probably the most economically-significant viral disease affecting cattle in the UK at the moment, with a typical cost of infection in a 100-cow beef herd being around �45,000 over a 10-year period. This can be doubled for a similar-sized dairy herd.

Having recently introduced a new herd of Shorthorn cattle on to his farm, Maxwell decided to introduce eradication as part of his breeding policy. He now tests all cattle within his herd.

“Having a high health status for our stock is crucial to our success,” he said.

With neighbouring farmers all operating closed herds, Maxwell was adamant he should know the BVD status of his new stock of 40 pedigree Shorthorns, and that meant testing every animal in order to identify any offenders.

BVD can be identified in days by ear-tag sampling. Using Quicktag’s TypiFix tag and test initiative, Maxwell was able to identify his herd's BVD status within days, with one calf proving positive from his commercial herd which resulted in its dam (mother) being removed immediately.

Although Scotland made it compulsory to test for BVD from February this year, a farmer is only required to screen five animals out of every management group in order to identify persistently-infected cattle.

However, many farmers in England are already voluntarily testing their cattle.

“Most farmers will be blood-testing calves between six and nine months of age, at which point the mother is already back in calf, which defeats the object of the exercise,” said Scott Brown, from Murray Farm Care, suppliers of the TypiFix ear tag package.

“The main concern with herds infected by BVD is infertility, and herd performance can be seriously undermined.

“However, the disease has a number of symptoms, making identification of the disease difficult to pin point,” said Brown.

TypiFix combines conventional ear tagging with tissue sampling in one step, which means calves can be immediately tested for BVD as soon as an animal is born, and the results can be known in just six days.

“More significantly the system enables the farmer to sample any dead calves, which are not identified in the normal blood sampling process at six months of age.”

According to Brown, the system can help eradicate herd BVD within two years, and further explained, the quality of the sample in the sample, sets it apart from its competitors.

The Republic of Ireland has made BVD testing compulsory earlier this year and requires every calf to be tested through the ear tag initiative.

According to Richard Nolan, from Celtic Diagnostics, in Dublin, the scheme has been well-received with more than 20% of farmers adopting the system, when introduced as a voluntary scheme 12 months ago.

“BVD eradication isn’t a stick to beat farmers with by Government,” he said.

“It really is in the farmer’s interest to eradicate a disease that has the potential to incur enormous losses in each herd.”

Not surprisingly, Northern Ireland is following quickly with its own voluntary phase already in place, and is making the scheme compulsory next year.

“Rigorous BVD testing is here to stay and any trading partners will have to be very clear about their status,” Nolan added.


  • BVD will cost the Scottish cattle industry £50-80m over the next 10 years;

  • Eradication of the disease could result in a saving of about £16,000pa to the average dairy farm and £2,000 to other cattle farms.

  • About 40% of Scottish herds now show signs of exposure to the disease, with about 1% of calves born in Scotland thought to be persistently infected.

  • The disease can cause abortion, infertility, failure to thrive and often death.


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