ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE


Veterinary advice

 

Can vets still visit my farm?

Yes. The safety and well-being of clients and staff remains the priority for veterinary staff, but they will continue to provide veterinary services at the highest standards possible and in line with government advice. As such, your vet can still:

  • Carry out emergency work to ensure animal welfare and all essential work to maintain the food supply chain.
  • Offer you professional advice and consultations by remote means, including prescribing medicines where appropriate.
  • Carry out your TB test under exceptional circumstances as long as both you and the vet are satisfied that it can be carried out in a safe manner and in accordance with the public health guidance. If you have concerns, these should be discussed with your vet beforehand.

Your vet will no longer carry out any routine work that does not directly support the food supply chain. It is advised that you discuss with your vet what is and is not considered routine.

 

What will the process be before the visit?

Before visiting your farm, the vet will:

  1. Speak to you on the phone to check that a visit is essential. If remote means of diagnosis are feasible, they may be employed instead, for example, the use of video/photos sent digitally.
  2. Ask you to confirm that all farm staff are healthy and not experiencing any of the recognised signs of Covid-19
  3. Ask whether there are vulnerable people on the farm, those at higher risk of Covid-19
  4. Ask if anyone on farm has recently come into contact with a person with symptoms of Covid-19

If the answer to any of questions b, c or d is yes, and if sufficient staff are available, the practice may send two staff members and ask that NO farm personnel be present for the visit.

In this instance all communication will be done by telephone. The client must be available throughout the vet’s visit to discuss treatment on the phone.

 

What will the process be during the visit?

During the visit your vet:

  • Will insist that social distancing is adhered to – 2 metres or a cow’s length.
  • Will require farm staff to wear clean gloves if helping with handling or restraint.
  • May need to consider alternative ways of treating the animal if social distancing cannot be maintained – safeguarding human health must be the priority.
  • Will politely decline offers of hospitality or to enter the household.
  • May wish to disinfect more than usual, not just protective clothing but also any areas of your property that he/she has touched.
  • Time on farm will be kept to the absolute minimum.

 

How will medicines be dispensed?

  • Farmers should NOT visit any veterinary practice for any reason without prior arrangement (e.g. a phone call).
  • Each practice will have a protocol for dispensing medicines which will ensure social distancing.
  • The practice may use a ‘drop box’ or designated place outside the building for medicine collection. This is to minimise people coming into the practise. Please telephone on arrival and your medicines will be left out for you.
  • Only one person may visit the premises.
  • Payment by card will be requested rather than cash or cheque (World Health Organisation guidance).
  • The supply of veterinary medicines is assured. There is no need to stockpile. Appropriate quantities will be dispensed.

 

I need to bring an animal/samples to the practice, what should I do?

  • You must speak to the vet on call before setting off for the practice.
  • Come alone.
  • You will be asked to confirm that you and all farm staff are health and not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Your animal may be examined and treated in your vehicle or trailer. If required, the animal may be admitted to the practice for treatment, but you should NOT unload it without expressed permission from the practice staff.
  • Strict social distancing will be maintained at all times.
  • No internal access to the practice will be granted.
  • You may need to disinfect yourself on arrival and before leaving the premises.

 

Tuberculosis

Is bTB testing taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Yes. The latest advice is that bTB testing may take place, but only where it can be done safely. The Minister’s announcement that calves under 180 days may be exempt from testing should allow more herd tests to be completed safely in accordance with the latest guidance issued by the Public Health Agency (PHA).  

For each arranged test, the testing veterinarian must discuss the conduct of the test with the herd keeper before commencing. If the herd keeper has any doubts or concerns that they cannot provide the necessary facilities to maintain social distancing throughout the test, the test should not be undertaken.  If a test commences, the testing veterinarian must ensure that compliance with PHA guidance is maintained throughout. 

 

Are calves under 180 days of age exempt from bTB herd tests? 

Yes. To enable bTB tests to take place safely in accordance with guidance issued by the Public Health Agency (PHA), calves under 180 days of age are temporarily exempt from bTB testing, where testing of these calves cannot take place safely.  If, in the opinion of the testing vet and the herd keeper, a calf under 180 days of age can be tested while maintaining social distancing, this bovine should be tested as normal.  

Calves under 180 days of age in restricted herds will also be exempt in restricted herd tests where it is not safe to do so.  This test will still contribute towards regaining OTF status. This will be kept under review. 

 

Will I be able to sell/move cattle without a negative bTB test result? 

Untested calves will be restricted and must be tested before they can be sold. 

 

Will untested calves be tested at a future date? 

Yes. If there is a herd test due within the next six months the individual calves will be restricted on farm by way of a BT21 notice and allocated a CTS (check test status) test on APHIS to be subsumed into the next herd test.  

If the next test is an annual herd test, the animals will again be restricted on farm and a CTS test will be allocated on APHIS to the DAERA patch vet, due up to 138 days from the date of the missed herd test. DAERA will only test the untested animals as one complete batch (not as individual animals), although the test of the batch may be completed before the due date at the herd keeper’s request if the animals can all be done safely. 

If a herd keeper wishes to test some of them prior to the batch test they can be done as a private check test (PCT) at the herd keeper’s expense. The private test can be done by obtaining authorisation from DAERA. 

 

What happens when my cattle herd is placed under movement restrictions whilst waiting for an overdue TB test to be completed? 

Whole herd movement restrictions are automatically placed on cattle herds that become overdue with their TB testing, and their officially TB free status is suspended. This is because once a test becomes overdue, the TB status of the herd is unknown and it is a potential risk to other herds. However, as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, herd restrictions will not take effect until 35 days after the test has become overdue. 

Where herd restrictions do apply, in exceptional circumstances, farmers may apply to DAERA for a licence to move cattle off the holding. 

 

Will the farmer still be able to sell cattle for direct slaughter if their test is overdue? 

Yes. Until further notice the farmer should disregard notices that may be or have been sent to them restricting slaughter. We have made adjustments to APHIS to facilitate moves direct to slaughter to keep the food supply moving. 

 

My herd has been restricted as the result of an overdue bTB test and I have been told I cannot purchase cattle.  Will these changes mean I am now able to purchase cattle? 

Yes.  As a temporary measure, herds with an overdue herd test will still be permitted to purchase cattle. 

 

What can I do during the Covid-19 pandemic to minimise the risk of my herd going down with bovine TB? 

Follow all the normal guidance about biosecurity and avoid buying in unless you are confident the seller’s herd is TB free. 

 

I have been permitted by DAERA to move a bovine from my restricted herd to a TB restricted herd.  Will my herd automatically be associated with this herd? 

No, DAERA accepts on a temporary basis that there will be no automatic association of two herds, provided the movement is in one direction on welfare grounds.  

 

Will cross compliance penalties be imposed if the test is overdue and cannot take place? 

Until further advised, keepers will not be referred to the paying agency for overdue TB tests if they and/or their PVP advise DAERA that the test could not be completed during the testing window for reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

 

As the result of Covid-19, my bTB annual herd test is now 15 months overdue.  Will I require two clear tests before herd restrictions are removed? 

No, if a herd test is overdue for 15 months as the result of a Covid-19 reason, a second test will not be required. 

 

I have already received a BT25b notice informing me that my test is overdue and that I can no longer slaughter and purchase animals. What does this mean? 

As the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, herd restrictions are not being applied until 35 days after the test has become overdue, at which point an advisory letter and a BT25a restriction notice will be issued. These had previously been issued at 7 days after the due date. Further herd restrictions (ie restriction on purchase and slaughter) were applied after 37 days following the test due date, and a BT25b notice was issued to enforce these. As the recent amendments allow purchase and slaughter for all herds with overdue tests, these BT25b restriction notices will no longer be issued. If you have already received one, it can be disregarded.   

 

When will the DAERA guidance on bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic be reviewed? 

The position regarding bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic is being kept under review taking into account feedback from herd owners, vets and the experiences of other jurisdictions.  However, the DAERA position will continue to be primarily based on the advice of the Public Health Agency. 

 

Can I change PVP during the current situation? 

Normally, a change of PVP will not be permitted when the next test has already been allocated. However, if a practice is not undertaking any bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic, a herd keeper can contact his local DAERA Direct office to request the reallocation of the test.  

Outside of testing windows, a nominated PVP can still be changed as normal.   

 

BVD

 

Are there any changes or disruptions to BVD testing and analysis?

No. At present there are no delays to approved laboratory turnaround times, however it is possible that the turnaround times may increase during the pandemic. As such, producers are encouraged to take and dispatch ear tissue tag samples promptly, so that a backlog of untested samples does not built up should any of the laboratories be affected by Covid-19.

Farmers should isolate calves until BVD negative results are received.

Royal mail advises that the large letter fee (first class, £1.15 at present) should be sufficient for up to 10 samples provided they are packed flat (rather than bulked up within the envelope). Note - underpayment or failure to pack samples appropriately may lead to samples being delayed or disposed of untested.

 

I would prefer to minimise my time in post offices at the moment, what should I do?

BVD samples can be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days before posting them. This should allow you plan trips to shops to minimise contact. Alternatively, you can weigh your package at home, pay for your postage online the Royal Mail's website, and print off your labels at home thereby minimising your need to queue in the post office.

 

What should I do if I get a BVD positive result?

All BVD persistently infected animals should be promptly removed. It is worth noting that between March 2019 and February 2020, 84% of retested BVD positive animals had a further positive result indicating there were persistently infected animals as opposed to transiently infected. As such, you may wish to simply dispose of the animal following the initial positive result as opposed to bringing a vet onto the farm to retest the animal at this time. To aid your decision, it is worth considering the BVD history of your herd and neighbouring herds when deciding whether to retest or immediately dispose of positive animals.

 

Who should I contact if I have a query?

For all BVD queries, please contact the AHWNI helpdesk on 028 7963 9333 info@animalhealthni.com.