“So you think it’s going to be bad? Well, you’re wrong…

We shuffle in our seats, steal surreptitious glances at one another, clear our throats and half smile. A rustle of whispers stirs through the listeners.

…it’s going to be devastating! Don’t underestimate for a second what effect this disease will have on your stock, you and your business.”

Jaws drop. We sit stock still. He has everyone’s undivided attention: Marco Zerhoef, the vet from Holland who has hands-on experience of dealing with Bluetongue, the disease that’s decimated the livestock industry in much of Northern Europe.

He continues “In Holland we were unprepared. We’d heard of it yes, but we thought the handful of cases that bubbled up in 2006 and then died down was the end of it. A one off, nothing to get excited about. How wrong we were! In 2007 the first cases in Holland occurred in July, but we misdiagnosed them as sunburn – it had been an unusually hot spring – and photosensitisation. We correctly identified the disease too late and by August nearly every farm in our practice had contracted Bluetongue. The disease continued to snowball with unprecedented effects.”

He went on to explain what we could expect. Showed us images of cows and sheep; oedematous, encrusted with lesions, lame and unable to drink or walk; and calves, malformed, mummified, suffering severe encephalitis and other unusual deformities. Youngsters that failed to thrive. Depressing graphs, facts and figures.

The only thing they could do was nurse the sick and dying, helping to relieve the excruciating symptoms. It’s an awful disease, killing 40% of sheep and causing long-term damage to those that survive and to cattle.

“You” he carried on “have a chance. Have a chance to be a little more prepared. And a chance, maybe, to get in front of it with the vaccine.”

A Dutch dairy farmer gave his first hand experiences of coping with Bluetongue in his well kept milking cows, calves and heifers and the ongoing effects the disease is continuing to have on his stock and business. Needless to say, milk production has been severely reduced; his followers lack growth and are giving just a small percentage of their expected yield, his cows are difficult to get in calf, calves die in utero, and so on.

Karin Darple, a vet from Pirbright and a Bluetongue expert who has been working on the disease and vaccine, gave her presentation next – and it was superb. What she doesn’t know about Bluetongue isn’t worth knowing. She had very practical advice on how to cope with the disease, whether and when insecticides would be appropriate, housing versus the outdoors and much, much, more.

Karin would like to see 100% take up of the vaccine as soon as it hits the shelves, but EU legislation prevents this! Vaccine can only be given in Protection Zones where the disease has already struck, not in the surrounding Surveillance Zones. Karin couldn’t stress enough that speed is of the essence: to stand a chance of avoiding the devastating effects of the disease we must vaccinate ahead of it – we must prevent the virus from getting established.

There was far too much useful information to put in this post. I have asked my vet for pdf copies of all three presentations. Those that I’m able to, I’ll link to from my blog. If they are too large I’d be willing to email you a copy if you are interested. Leave me some contact detail in the comment section and I’ll get back to you. Please also look at the Warmwell site and the link Jane Barribal left for more information.