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Caring for extensively managed livestock

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Sian Mitchell from APHA’s Veterinary Investigation Centre in Carmarthen, and APHA’s parasitology champion, talks about the development of the Centre of Expertise for Extensively Managed Livestock, which is a new APHA-led initiative for livestock.

What are extensively managed livestock?

Extensively managed livestock are animals, such as cattle and sheep that are kept on common land, uplands, mountains or moors. This means that they are not easily, regularly and closely inspected and can present specific challenges for farmers as these animals can be affected with different health and welfare problems to other livestock.

What is the Centre of Expertise for Extensively Managed Livestock?

The Centre of Expertise for Extensively Managed Livestock was developed to investigate the gap that exists in surveillance in these animals as it can be difficult to closely inspect extensively managed livestock and causes of death are not always identified.

APHA undertakes veterinary scanning surveillance to identify new or re-emerging disease threats and changes in the patterns of known diseases in livestock and wildlife species. This surveillance includes post mortem examinations and diagnostic testing at our Veterinary Investigation Centres (VICs) and partner post mortem examination (PME) providers in England and Wales.

Data from private vets and animal keepers is critical to the surveillance network and we are encouraging keepers of extensively managed livestock to discuss submitting carcases to us with their vet to improve the data we hold on this livestock sector. The Centre of Expertise will collate the disease data in extensively managed livestock from across our network of VICs and partner PME providers and from other sources, including vets. We will analyse these data to identify patterns and trends of disease in this livestock sector to give both vets and farmers timely alerts about disease threats and risks to their animals.

This will ultimately lead to earlier disease detection for new and re-emerging threats to extensively managed livestock, and improved control methods.

Where is the Centre of Expertise for Extensively Managed Livestock?

The Centre is based at our Carmarthen Veterinary Investigation Centre (VIC), but is a Great Britain-wide resource and forms part of our wider veterinary surveillance system. It is not necessary to be based near Carmarthen to make use of the Centre of Expertise as carcases and samples can be submitted to any of our VICs or partner PME providers in England and Wales and in Scotland, to SRUC Veterinary Services.

Feedback from both farmers and vets has confirmed that parasitic diseases are a particular concern for extensively managed livestock and the Carmarthen VIC is also our parasitology testing laboratory, where we investigate endemic and zoonotic parasite diseases of livestock.

Engaging with our stakeholders

To help shape the activities at the Centre of Expertise, we have held stakeholder conferences which have brought together farmers and vets, as well as people from academia, retail and government to share information and develop collaborative ways of working.

We have held workshops at these conferences to investigate how information and data could be better utilised and to identify favoured methods for communication to ensure timely dissemination of information.

Farmer feedback from these meetings told us that the top three priority diseases in extensively managed livestock are liver fluke, sheep scab and tick-borne diseases.

Reports from the conferences are available on the Centre of Expertise for Extensively Managed Livestock webpage of the APHA Vet Gateway.

Engagement with farmers, as well as suitably qualified people (SQPs) (who can prescribe and/or supply certain veterinary medicines) and vets, is key to the success of the Centre to improve submission of carcases and samples from extensively managed livestock to increase our data and knowledge in this area.

We have also recently been promoting the Centre of Expertise at agricultural shows, including the NSA Sheep Event, Malvern and the Royal Welsh Show to meet farmers and vets so they can find out more about the Centre from our experts.

What help and information is available

If you are a farmer and notice any unusual or unexplained signs of illness or death in your flock or herd, please talk to your vet about discussing the case with your local VIC. They will offer advice on how APHA’s PME and diagnostic services, along with that of our partner post mortem providers, can help you manage the health of your flock or herd.

We offer an online postcode search tool on our Surveillance and Diagnostics website to find your designated PME facility. And if you live more than an hour from one of our centres, we can help with free carcase collection in parts of England and Wales.

We are also happy to offer free advice to vets on unusual or non-responsive cases, as well as endemic disease, and where appropriate, will undertake farm visits to investigate.

APHA has made information about the diseases we diagnose freely available online in interactive disease surveillance dashboards. You can use the dashboards to explore what diseases have been diagnosed in sheep and cattle (there are also dashboards for pigs and small chicken flocks), by county over a time period. The dashboards also let you explore the diseases that are common at different times of the year.

We have dedicated Species Expert Groups which provide networks for gathering and sharing livestock disease and other related information, as well as close links with both SCOPS and COWS, which are industry-led bodies whose aims are to control parasites in sheep and cattle sustainably.

For more information see our APHA Vet Gateway webpage for further information and links to useful disease information. Alternatively, contact APHA Carmarthen Veterinary Investigation Centre on 01267 235244.

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