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One of my young (sixteen month old) heifers had developed warts.

This in itself is not a particular problem. Warts are a fairly common occurrence in cattle, particularly in stock under two years old, and are caused by the skin’s reaction to an infection with papova virus (six different papova viruses have been identified, though the majority of cases are caused by one of two types). These warts can crop up anywhere on the animal’s body though most frequently around the head and neck area; less common but more worrying sites are the teats, scrotum and penis. Warts can grow fast and vary greatly in shape and size from almost flat pea-sized lumps to large orange-sized balls on stalks.

bovine warts around the head of an animal - google images

bovine warts around the head of an animal - google images

My heifer had a few small areas of infection around her muzzle though the worst was a cluster of large nebular sessile (squat) warts on the inside of her hind leg and, horror of horror, a huge, repulsive pedunculate (stalked) brain-like growth hanging off the side of one of her teats. It was the size of a nectarine (but not as juicy!).  Not only was it getting knocked and damaged when she walked, becoming a fly magnet, its sheer size and weight was elongating and deforming her teat.

warts on the udder of a cow - google images

warts on the udder of a cow - google images

Generally warts disappear within six months but in this case something had to be done to the one on her teat so she didn’t suffer permanent damage.

We discussed the options. Cutting it off? Not the best of times to do this; possible excessive bleeding, fly strike and difficult to treat post-operatively in the field. Restricting blood-flow with a ligature? Not ideal, again the problem of fly-strike, but probably the best alternative in the circumstances.

So having decided on the ligature we began to gather up equipment and manpower.

The young stock spend their summer at some rented land a few miles away and though we have a corral where we can gather and load them we don’t have a proper crush. We decided we’d rig up a gate crush and with strong rope, brave men and a little bit of luck we would be able to pin her behind the gate and hopefully immobilise her sufficiently to be able to tie the ligature on.

Robert, Joe, Olly, me and, of course, my right-hand man Theo all piled into the truck, complete with elastrator (castrating tool, just in case I was able to fit a castrating ring over the growth), suitable strong, non-slip string to form the ligature, iodine, salt solution, Spot On (fly deterrent), rope, baler cord and, most important, a bucket of nuts as an incentive and reward.

In no time an admirable gate crush had been constructed. We managed to lure the cattle into the corral in record time with the promise of nuts. Once the cattle were contained it wasn’t too much bother to isolate and crush the heifer concerned behind the gate. So far so good, now the difficult bit. The elastrator was unfortunately far too small. We would only get one attempt with the string ligature…she would kick, she would start forward and she would make it impossible for a second attempt. Robert decided I would become permanently damaged and broken so he would endeavour to tie the ligature. All was ready…Olly on the ropes, me with the nuts and Robert at the business end. In the flash of a moment the heifer lunged upwards and forward in an attempt to escape, landing on top of the gate – but in her violent forward movement against Robert’s pull on the ligature the string had severed the whole gruesome growth! Yes, it was bleeding but not too severely. Settling the heifer down behind the gate, I dressed the wound with iodine and cobwebs (cobwebs are an old remedy used to hasten blood coagulation), fed her a good measure of nuts, treated her with fly deterrent and sent her off into the field.

Then we searched around for the wart, and found it.  What a trophy!  I showed it to all our friends, many of them aren’t speaking to us now. First I kept it in the fridge for easy access until the family rebelled.  Now it’s in the freezer.  I just hope that in a year or two someone doesn’t open the bag, think that looks tasty, and have a good fry up!

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

christmas eve carols hatherleigh town square 24 dec 08

So where have I been? What blanket of fug was thrown over my head rendering me silent? The first was the same as for many of you, I shouldn’t be surprised…The Cold (of the virus type)! The second is slightly more distressing…

My slip-sliding into pre-Christmas panic disappeared and unabashed childish excitement and joy took over; our family arriving, friends popping round, unexpected invitations and out-of-the-blue visitors.

The tree twinkled in the warm firelit glow of the sitting room; banisters, mantels and pictures were decorated with binds of evergreen; mistletoe decked doorway and beam whilst freshly woven wreaths festooned the doors.

All was ready – larder shelves burdened festive goodies – ham, turkey and goose; Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cake; nougats, navettes, glace fruits and marrons from France; cranberries, clementines, nuts and chocolate. I was all set to feed the army descending on us for the next ten days. But I hadn’t bargained on The Cold.

Olly, first to succumb to The Cold just before Christmas, was surprised to find he became worse rather than better. Will arrived home with the London strain. Camille brought the French version with her over the channel, her temperature soaring on Christmas Eve. The next in the firing line was me – whilst cooking Christmas dinner (naturally). Then it was Berengere. With rapid and single-minded intent it worked its way through us all. We had the added frisson of the more exotic, as our friends from across the Atlantic added their contribution to the melting pot. This was fast becoming virus heaven!

‘Hey bro –how ya doin’? Gi me five!’

‘Aw’rite mate. Didn’t ‘spec you ‘ere. Aint ‘alf bad – oi mean look at these fekking geezers…!’

‘Pardon…I ‘ave not zee Englieesh…mais oui, ici, c’est trez bon. ‘Ow you say? Bloodee marvellous!’

‘Good to see you all in this neck of the woods. The frog’s right when ‘e says it’s bloody marvellous. Never seen such a cosmopolitan gathering. Here’s one for united nations and entente cordial!

The viruses rub their hands in glee at the prospect of increasing their kith and kin by 500,000 billion in the next few days. They high five and in unison stream forward to launch their attack; bookies shout the odds on favourites, and humans didn’t stand a chance!

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

sharing a quiet moment - two poorly people - camille and paula

Yesterday, sadly, the house emptied. Today, as I gather up pine needles, escaped shreds of wrapping paper, broken toys, cracker jokes, squashed mince pies and baskets full of holiday detritus, I stop as I seem to the whole time at the moment to gaze out at the frost-sparkling countryside. Do you know we haven’t had a drop of rain for over ten days? I can scarcely believe it.

The more distressing part two tomorrow…

Culicoides sonorensis the bluetongue virus biting midge

Culicoides sonorensis the bluetongue virus biting midge

I’ve been hanging onto this story to see if there were any developments. To date, there haven’t been.

Last week bluetongue serotype 1 (BTV1) was found on a farm in the North West, near Blackpool. It was detected in five imported pedigree Bazadaise dairy cattle from an area in France battling with both BTV1 and BTV8. The cows were culled along with one other animal in the same consignment.

These cows were moved perfectly legally having been vaccinated against BTV1 and BTV8 sixty days before travelling to the UK, following the current procedure set out by DEFRA. But, the cattle appear to have been infected with the BTV1 strain of the disease around the same time they were vaccinated and showed low level viremia when post-imported tested by DEFRA.

Defra said there was no evidence of the disease circulating, so no movement controls or additional restrictions had been put in place.

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said:
“Taking into account the epidemiological evidence and the consideration of the risk represented to British livestock, I have taken the decision to cull these animals.
This incident shows how important it is for farmers to consider potential disease risks when buying stock. Buyers need to consider how best to protect their own businesses and those of their neighbours and make sure they are clear about the stock they are intending to buy.”

Too right it does!

What astounds me is the lack of compulsory testing before the animals are exported. I know if I wanted a particular breed of cattle I would think very, very carefully about purchasing my breeding stock from a country  reeling from the effects of Bluetongue strains not yet present in the UK (well actually, I just wouldn’t!). If it was a matter of life and death (though for the life of me I can’t see that anything would be that important) I would insist on the animals being tested  prior to they leaving their home premises and before they were anywhere near British shores.

Dr Ruth Watkins at least seems to understand the risks involved when importing animals from Bluetongue infected countries. From a conversation she had with Warmwell

“From a diagnostic and virologist point of view,” she says “when vaccinating cattle for possible export – (valuable animals that are special in some way) – blood samples should be taken and stored at the time vaccination is begun and then, three weeks after the second dose of vaccination, when it is known for sure that animals are going to be exported, a further blood sample should be taken. Both blood samples should then be tested for the presence of antibody and checked for bluetongue virus RNA1 and 8 or other serotypes.
While such tests might cost up to £100 pounds or so, the £1000s spent on pedigree animals and transport puts such a figure in perspective. A farmer gets no compensation for imported animals that are subsequently culled – but if such testing were done before animals are moved into the UK it would do much for the safety of movements and the reputation – and pockets – of both importers and exporters.”

She adds ruefully, “Most farmers don’t understand enough about testing. Rational virus diagnosis – i.e. using all the tests at your command – is not routinely practised and understood in veterinary medicine – but surely farmers would rather these tests were done.”

I most certainly would – wouldn’t you?

Yesterday evening I watched as clouds of midges danced in the golden rays of the setting sun outside the kitchen window. I tried to take a photo of them. This is the result.  Fireflies?  Perhaps.  Fairies?  Possibly.  Dancing debris from a fire?  Could be.  But midges?  No!

dancing cloud

dancing cloud

Midges bring with them a sinister reputation. The more so since I’ve heard this disquieting news through the Farmers Weekly.   Many farmers, with animals already stressed by the dire weather, believe rumours that if vaccinated against bluetongue disease they might fail to breed.  FWi reports “The doubts over vaccinating were reflected at Penrith livestock market which reported that of 6000 mules through only two batches of ewes were vaccinated”.

The uptake of the vaccine has been so low in the North of England that only one in five livestock farms is protected.

A Cumbria suckled calf producer is quoted as saying “I’ve decided to leave my vaccine in the fridge until the spring. I want my cows safely in calf and a crop of calves on the ground before I start to jab.”

Chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop reports that the uptake of vaccine in Wales has been disappointingly low. FWi quotes Alun Edwards, a Welsh farmer and Farmers Union of Wales office holder, as saying producers who resist vaccination to be “bloody idiots”.

I can only speak from my own experience.

I vaccinated in late May as soon as the vaccine was available in Devon. My bull had only been running with the cows for a couple of weeks before I vaccinated and as far as I know, to date, all cows and heifers I would expect to be are in calf. I had the most vulnerable animals PD (pregnancy diagnosed) when I was bTB testing the other week and they are 2½ -3 months in calf.

Despite the weather, and vaccination, my lambs have grown well and have killed out at a good average weight of 15-16kgs – Whiteface Dartmoor lambs give a small to medium size carcass. The tups go in with the ewes at the end of next week, so I will soon see how that goes.

I urge farmers to think really carefully about the consequences of not vaccinating. If your animals contract Bluetongue, even if they don’t die (with up to 70% mortality in sheep) they will suffer horrendous consequences. Abortion, stillbirth and neonatal mortality are increased with survivors suffering from infertility, depleted lactation and chronic weight loss. These things are a certainty. I know vaccination’s an added cost in a year that’s bleak, but the consequences, emotionally and financially, will be a hundred times worse with the disease.

For immediate up-to-date information on bluetongue and the various forms of available vaccination in the UK, and on the continent, follow this link to Warmwell.

Mr Edwards also questioned the sanity of importing livestock from infected areas following the first cases of bluetongue found in imported cattle on a Denbighshire farm.

So do I. So do I!

death dance?

death dance?

Culicoides sonorensis, bluetongue disease biting midge

Culicoides sonorensis, bluetongue disease biting midge

I’ve just heard that Bluetongue Disease has been found on a farm in Devon, not million miles from here.

‘A total of eight heifers at the farm in Tiverton have tested positive for the non-contagious virus.
The animals were among a consignment of 35 Holstein heifers imported from Germany within the last week.
The cases were detected by routine testing, which is carried out on all bluetongue susceptible animals arriving from continental Europe.’

So says the BBC online news. It goes on to say

‘The heifers were transported from a bluetongue protection zone in Germany to Devon, itself within a protection zone.
A Defra statement said: “It is not unexpected to find infected animals in the protection zone.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the virus is circulating between local midge and animal populations in the local areas.
“Full epidemiological investigations are underway.” ‘

I am very puzzled. Why weren’t the heifers tested before they left Germany?
And why ‘is it not unexpected to find infected animals in a protection zone’?

Are DEFRA forgetting they made the majority of England part of the protection zone so they could bend EU rules and allow a vaccination programme to be put in place? It was not, in the majority of counties, because there were infected midges and animals in those areas.

Could this be an experiment to see if the vaccine holds up under fire? Oh, oh those damn conspiracy theories! But remember we’ve all been told it only needs one midge to have a blood meal from an infected animal for the disease to go on the rampage.

I was beginning to feeling quietly confident that England’s firewall of vaccinated animals was giving us the protection we needed from the continental wind blown Culicoides midge. Arriving on our shores by its own volition is something we can do very little about, apart from vaccination and being prepared as best we can. But to import the disease? Now? When midges are at their hight? This takes the biscuit.

So, very well done someone out there. I hope you’re pleased with yourself. My nice little security blanket’s been stripped away. Maybe my worry is completely unfounded, I sure hope so.

sheep suffering with bluetongue disease

sheep suffering with bluetongue disease

Karin has very kindly sent me a link to a page from the Institute of Animal Health which has a selection of presentations given by several members of her group at an NFU meeting. You’ll see the presentations listed at the bottom on the left hand side– just click on them to view. (the above link is now working!)

She has also included three papers that you might find interesting

Bluetongue 1 Bluetongue 2 Bluetongue 3

Another link which you might also find informative is Farming on Sunday

If you have any questions about bluetongue the Institue of Animal Health have an email account iah.bluetongue@bbsrc.ac.uk. where your questions will be answered by one of the bluetongue group – the most appropriate person for the question.

Karin will be giving another talk in Cornwall at The Conference Hall, Duchy College, Rosewarne, Nr Camborne TR140AB on Thursday the 22nd May at 7.30pm. If it’s near enough to you I suggest to try to get there as her presentation really is superb.

I hope you find this useful. If there’s anything else you want to know I’ll see if I can help.

A quick update on the bluetongue information. Unfortunately there has been a technical hitch with converting the two Dutch power point presentations into pdfs. Andrew, who is very kindly doing this for me, is away on holiday this week, but as soon as he is back I’m sure that the problem will be resolved and we’ll be able to either upload the pdfs or give a link to them.

The good news is that I’m in contact with Karin from Pirbright who is keen to help and is willing put some information together for the blog. Though due to the warmer weather over the past week she has been extremely busy and won’t be able to do much before the weekend.

But, with a bit of luck, by next week I should have pulled together some useful sources of information that you will hopefully find helpful.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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