Calf output is a key element in determining the profitability of a suckler beef enterprise. Infectious agents such as Bovine Virus Diarrhoea (BVD) virus, colostrum management and parasitic challenge can all affect calf output. Prior to the national BVD eradication programme, there was little published information on either the prevalence or effect of BVD in Irish beef herds. There is little published information on colostrum management practices in Irish commercial beef herds and there have also been few studies published on the prevalence of liver fluke or rumen fluke infection in Irish beef herds. Sixteen farms participating in the Teagasc/Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef programme were used in this study. Fourteen herds were screened for the presence of BVD virus in 2010 using RT-PCR. In 13 herds, blood samples were collected from calves (2–14 days of age) in November 2011 - April 2012 to determine their passive immune status using the zinc sulphate turbidity (ZST) test, while in 12 herds, blood and faecal samples were taken in order to determine the level of exposure to gastrointestinal and hepatic helminths.
The overall prevalence of BVD virus-positive cattle was 0.98% (range 0 - 3% per herd, range 0.6 - 3.0% per positive herd). Eighteen of the 82 calves (22%) sampled had ZST values less than 20 units (herd mean range 17.0 – 38.5 units) indicating a failure of passive transfer. The overall animal-level (herd-level) prevalence of liver fluke and rumen fluke infection in these herds was 40.5% (100%) and 20.8% (75%), respectively.
The potential costs associated with the presence of animals persistently infected with BVD virus through the increased use of antibiotics; the rate of failure of passive transfer of colostral immunoglobulins and the high prevalence of liver fluke infection in these herds highlight that some Irish suckler beef farms may not be realizing their economic potential due to a range of herd health issues. The use of farm-specific herd health plans should be further encouraged on Irish suckler beef farms.