Learning about BVD

On my farm practice placement one of the diseases the vets talked about a lot was bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD). Apparently BVH has a huge economic impact on cattle farming: it can cause poor performance in herds for many years without being treated as farmers may come to accept this as normal. Ongoing infection and re-infection happens via an interesting mechanism including intrauterine transfer to calves and Persistent Infected (PI) individuals constantly shedding virus into the herd’s housing.

What does BVD look like?

BVD infection leads to respiratory problems and poor fertility, as well as compromising the immune system and making cattle more vulnerable to secondary diseases like pneumonia and scouring. In pregnant cows it can cause abortion, embryo death or birth defects, particularly neurological problems. Where cows are infected early in pregnancy their calf becomes exposed to BVD antigens before their immune system is developed enough to recognise it. These calves, if they survive, become the sinister PI cattle responsible for infecting herds more broadly.

What’s the deal with PI cows?

BDV can be transmitted directly or via the environment between infected cows, replicating and causing infection once it touches epithelial cells. Normal individuals will produce antibodies and can become immune, although some will have chronic infections in organs the immune system struggles to reach such as reproductive organs. PI cows, however, “see” the virus as self because it was present before their immune system formed properly. They can never produce antibodies and go around shedding viral material at a thousand times the rate of a normal infected cow.

Many PI calves fail to reach adulthood, often dying from mucosal disease or cerebellar hypoplasia, the aforementioned neurological condition they are likely to be born with. But those that do grow up continue to infect the cows they live with for their entire lives. Identifying and culling these individuals is crucially important to controlling BVD in a herd and restoring herd performance.

What can be done?

As well as removing the PI cows from a herd, biosecurity and vaccination are both important tools. Milk, ear tag and blood samples can be used to test for the presence of antibodies or antigen and look at the infection status of the herd whilst measures such as double fencing and only buying in BVD-free animals can help keep the disease out.

A voluntary BVDFree scheme started in July aiming to eradicate the disease from the UK by 2022. Several Scandinavian countries have proved this to be possible already and practices are encouraging their clients to sign up and gain BVDFree status. This can be expensive but does lead to greatly improved performance of the farm and can be a selling point, for example selling stock certified as BVD-free.

BVD was an interesting disease to learn about even if we never actually dealt with it during my placement week. I’ve listed my references below but a lot of this came from the vets at the practice who were fantastic teachers!



The Cattle Site

Ususal disclaimer: I’m not a vet, not even a vet student yet, so please don’t use my blog for vet advice! If you notice things I’ve got wrong or not understood properly, please feel free to point them out. Thanks 🙂



A local puppy farm welfare case

The Dog Rescuers on Channel 5

The link above is to a documentary on puppies and the work of the RSPCA – featuring my local branch and the dogs I’ve been walking during my volunteering there!

Apparently there has been a lot of interest in the dogs shown and the centre have posted on their Facebook page to remind people that, due to being part of an ongoing case against the owner, they’re not yet available for adoption. I’ve been really careful not to share any photos or videos of the case dogs but now they’re on national TV I think it should be okay to provide a link to the show! The particular dogs shown in the video may not be up for rehoming but the centre has MANY, MANY dogs in need of forever homes if you’re looking for one.

RPSCA Volunteering

Today I thought I would write about the RSPCA volunteering I started doing back in May to improve my understanding of kennels, cattery, small animal care and how rescue centres work. Whilst this “work experience” ticks lots of boxes, it’s also pretty fun and rewarding – and hard work of course but then we already knew I’m a sucker for punishment.

I started out doing 9-5 every Sunday but last month I asked if I could reduce this to once a fortnight. It’s a shame but I haven’t had any real time off work since Christmas last year and I felt like continually working six days a week plus evening experience wasn’t a good idea for my health. As my visits are quite spaced out it’s taking me a while to learn the ropes but now I sometimes have responsibility for a block of kennels which is the hard work I mentioned nice.

Depending on staffing I get assigned to kennels or cattery first thing. Although the animals, feeds, toys and layout are different the routine is pretty similar. Before the public can come visiting at 11AM we feed and water, clean all the kennels or cat pods, disinfect anything contaminated with urine or faeces, remove feeding equipment, wash floors and make the place tidy.

Lots of cleaning but for a good cause!

I don’t know a lot about other places but the centre seems to have a pretty good set up, there are five blocks of kennels and 30 cat “pods” all with inside and outside access, isolation facilities, three pens for dogs to play in, kitchens, a bathing/grooming room, laundry, a meeting room which can also be used to socialise cats, several dog walking routes, reception, offices and lots of storage for donations, cages, food, cat litter and other supplies.

One of the lovely dogs I’ve walked, rehomed several weeks ago now.

Once things are set up for the day volunteers can start walking dogs whose names are on the walkers’ boards. Each dog is graded red, amber or green for behaviour and we can only walk grades we’re trained for. The board also has notes on the dogs – for example, whether they can have treats, should wear a harness, need grooming after their walk or shouldn’t go in public spaces due to being from a prosecution case. In the cattery we spend time socialising kittens or take adult cats into the meeting space to stretch their legs and be made a fuss of.

Throughout the day there are also a variety of other tasks like sorting donations, cleaning and tidying, animal health checks, assisting with vaccinations or microchipping, laundry, feeding animals on multiple daily feeds, grooming, bathing, assisting in giving medication, sweeping, taking out rubbish, washing up… No it’s “not all puppies and kittens” as people like to say but it’s still 100% more puppies and kittens than my average day! We also help with enrichment materials for the animals such as frozen food, toys or time outside their cages. Being in kennels with a changing rota of carers, no matter how dedicated, is stressful for the animals but varied enrichment can help reduce this and prevent boredom issues.

Some dogs are easier to photograph than others…

Once the public go home at 4 there is another round of feeding, watering and cleaning before the centre is locked up and the staff go home. Several of the team live on site so there’s sometimes scope to give the animals some extra time with outdoor access. You’d hope it would also deter people from abandoning pets but sadly there has been a spate of dumped cats recently. This means that pets on the waiting list who need to come to the centre and whose owners have followed the proper process have to wait even longer and it also puts the team in a really awkward position. However, to avoid ending on a sad note, here is a short clip of Mia who I last saw two weeks ago on the day she was ditched in a taped-up box. Then she just sat and dribbled from the stress – look how friendly she is now!

I’m going to keep at this volunteering for as long as I can until another type of animal experience takes over my weekends. It’s a great centre and open 11AM-4PM every day except Tuesday, so you should definitely go visit and put some coins in the donations jar! You can also donate pet food, cat litter, beds, blankets, towels, toys or treats – it will all go to a very good use.

Cat family  ❤  one of many!

Thanks for reading and “see” you again next week!

Pregnancy diagnosis in sheep

When I started talking about going back to university one of my friends from school got in touch and asked if I wanted to do some “work experience” on his dad’s farm. I was very grateful for the suggestion and even more so when we went along to the farm and his family turned out to be lovely, friendly people and willing to take me on during lambing!

I’ve booked my time off work and agreed to stay with my family in the next village. However their lambing won’t start until late March/early April, which seemed a long way off. So when they called me up and said they were doing pregnancy diagnosis on some of the sheep this weekend I jumped at the chance to go and start learning about sheep farming and try and make myself useful.

Continue reading “Pregnancy diagnosis in sheep”