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“Johne’s disease is a bacterial disease of cattle and other ruminants for which there is no cure”

Johne’s disease is an incurable bacterial infection that affects ruminant species caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP).

Ruminants are hoofed mammals, such as cattle, sheep and deer, who chew their cud and have a 3-4 chambered stomach. There are two main symptoms of Johnes disease; long-lasting diarrhea and rapid weight loss, despite a healthy appetite.

Animal Health Ireland set up a control programme for Johne’s disease in September of 2017 which builds on their 2013 pilot programme. It aims to inform farmers on how best to ensure their herds remain clear from infection, reduce infection where possible and improve calf health and farm biosecurity in participating farms.

Farm Safely spoke to Lorna Citer, Johne’s Disease Programme Manager of Animal Health Ireland.

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Lorna Citer, Johne’s Disease Programme Manager of Animal Health Ireland.

Q What is Johne’s disease?

“Johne’s disease is a bacterial disease of cattle and other ruminants for which there is no cure. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis (MAP), hence the other name for the disease, Paratuberculosis. Cattle usually become infected as calves early in life by drinking or eating milk or food contaminated with the bacteria, which are shed in the dung or milk of infected adult cattle.

“On occasion, calves are already infected at birth, with this being most common when their dam has advanced disease. Sometimes one infected calf can infect pen-mates early in life. Once infected, the disease progresses slowly and silently. The signs of disease will vary depending upon the stage of infection, how many bacteria the calf swallowed, how soon after birth this happened and how quickly the gut wall has become damaged.

“The signs of infection appear very gradually with reduced feed conversion efficiency leading to loss of productivity followed by weight loss, scour and ultimately emaciation and death. There is no treatment or cure for Johne’s disease.”

Q How can Johne’s Disease be controlled?

“Effective Johne’s disease control requires a multi-faceted approach to prevent the introduction of infection into herds and best practice hygienic calf rearing to reduce the risk of spread within the herd in the event infection is inadvertently introduced to the farm.

“Herds which are already known to be infected should also seek to remove clinical cases and infected animals at the earliest possible opportunity to reduce the contamination of cow and calf sheds and pastures used for young stock or areas where calves are housed.”

Q When was the Irish Johne’s Control Programme (IJCP) set up and why?

“The Irish Johne’s Control Programme commenced in September 2017. The programme builds on the knowledge and experience gained from the pilot programme, a review of international best practice and extensive consultation with stakeholders.”

The Objectives of the Programme are to:
I. Enhance the ability of participating farmers to keep their herds clear of JD.
II. Enable participating farmers to reduce the level of infection in their herds, where present.
III. Provide additional reassurance to the marketplace in relation to Ireland’s efforts to control JD.
IV. Improve calf health and farm biosecurity in participating farms.

“The Irish Johne’s Control Programme stakeholders seek to demonstrate their commitment to animal health generally. Johne’s disease is a significant production disease which if it establishes in a herd will cause significant loss of production through increased culling rates, reduced feed conversion efficiency and milk.”

Q Who can participate in the programme?

“The programme is available to any farmer who wishes to participate. However a phased approach has been undertaken with Phase One (2017) being open to the 2,000 herdowners who had enrolled in a pilot programme that ran from 2014-2016. Farmers interested in registering for the programme in 2018 should complete and Expression of Interest form, available from the AHI website.”

Q How many farmers have joined the programme so far?

“During the first month of the programme over 300 herdowners have registered, and registration forms and enquiries continue to be received daily by AHI.”

Q What sort of reception have you received from the general public and farmers alike on this programme?

“Milk processors and Farming organisations are firmly behind the programme. Milk processors are currently hosting awareness workshops around the country for their suppliers and interest has been positive while AHI is regularly receiving enquiries from farmers seeking to register in 2018.”

Q Could you explain what is involved in the different phases of said programme?

“The Programme combines a number of elements including communication, research, farmer awareness and knowledge exchange activities as well as herd level activities which provide different pathways for test-negative and test-positive herds to manage and control Johne’s disease.”

Phase One
1. Centralised registration.
2. Farmer awareness workshops funded by the milk processor and professional development for Dairy Milk Quality Advisors and Teagasc Dairy Advisors.
3. On-farm veterinary risk assessment and management planning (VRAMP) visit, delivered by an approved veterinary practitioner and funded by the milk processor.
4. Subvention for whole-herd testing, funded by DAFM to actively contribute additional contemporary data to inform a consultancy evaluating national surveillance methods.
5. Ancillary testing (using faecal PCR) to resolve the test status of animals with positive ELISA results, funded by DAFM.

Phase Two
1. Centralised registration.
2. Farmer awareness workshops funded by the milk processor and professional development for Dairy Milk Quality Advisors and Teagasc Dairy Advisors.
3. Whole herd testing (with levels of available supports to be determined by the JDIG taking into account the outcome of the consultancy undertaken as part of Phase One).
4. On-farm veterinary risk assessment and management planning (VRAMP) visit, delivered by an approved veterinary practitioner and funded by the milk processor.
5. Ancillary testing (using faecal culture or faecal PCR) to resolve the test status of animals with positive ELISA results, funded by DAFM.
6. On-farm herd investigations by an approved veterinary practitioner, funded by DAFM and the EU under the Targeted Advisory Service on Animal Health (TASAH) measure of the Rural Development Programme (RDP).
7. JD Herd Assurance Score, provided to the individual herdowner.
8. Knowledge exchange measures (to be defined), involving participating herdowners and Approved Veterinary Practitioners.
9. Measures aimed at improving calf health and farm biosecurity.
10. Measures aimed at supporting the National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Q Is there anything else of relevance you would like to add?

“All farmers are encouraged to implement effective biosecurity practices and hygienic calf rearing practices as this will assist Johne’s disease control as well as the health of the herd generally. For information on Johne’s disease visit the AHI website http://animalhealthireland.ie.”

Farmers who did not partake in the pilot programme and wish to sign up for Phase 2 in 2018 can do so by completing the Expression of Interest form available on AHI’s web page.

Alternatively, further information on the Irish Johne’s Control Programme is available by contacting Animal Health Ireland on 071 9671928 or jd@animalhealthireland.ie.

The author: Nick Fitzgerald