Bag it. Bin it.

How you can help to stop the spread of Neospora.

Here at Stirley, our cattle are part of the Premium Cattle Health Scheme run by the Scottish Agricultural College. This means that our cows are tested for certain diseases to ensure that they are in the best health possible.

Cattle have a large vein on the underside of their tail which is where the vet collects the blood from. The process is very quick, much like when we have a blood test at the doctors.

The diseases we test for are Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Johnes Disease, Leptospirosis and Neospora. We also test our cattle for TB but this is done every four years at the moment so is not due until next year. I have briefly mentioned Neospora before and I will now explain a little bit more about it and how you can help stop the spread.

Neospora caninum, to give the full name, is a parasite which can invade, live and multiply inside a living host. Below is a diagram and the steps of transmission to illustrate how dog owners not picking up dog mess are the main culprit in spreading this infection.

Steps of transmission:

  1. A dog, infected with Neospora leaves poo in a field, which isn't picked up by the owner
  2. A cow then eats the grass in the field and becomes infected
  3. They then go on to either have a live calf that will also be infected or abort their calf
  4. If a cow gives birth in a field, the aborted calf or placenta may be eaten by dogs
  5. They then become infected and the cycle begins again

If an infected cow is pregnant, the infection can cross through the placenta to the unborn calf and infect it, either resulting in a live calf that is also infected or it can cause abortion. It has been suggested that up to 10% of all calf abortions in the UK are caused by Neospora.

Our animals were tested for Neospora and we got the results back last week. Unfortunately we have had some sad news. Two of our pregnant cows are Neospora positive which now puts them at high risk of abortion. On inspection, the vet sadly confirmed that both cows had already aborted their calves. In order to prevent the disease spreading, there may be no other alternative than to kill the affected cows.

Cows with hay

(c) Marianne Fairclough

There is a really easy way to help prevent the spread of this devastating infection. Dog owners, please: Bag it. Bin it.

Somerset Wildlife Trust recently highlighted that they are finding increasing numbers of dog poo bags hanging on trees, dumped in fields and left on gates. This is disgraceful. If you have gone to the effort of picking up mess and putting it in a bag – bin the bag. It's utterly useless to leave the bag behind.

Not only is the plastic bag itself harmful to wildlife and the environment, the faeces it contains can harbour this infection which will then spread when the bag starts to disintegrate or breaks. We have also had this issue at Stirley as you can see below. We did a litter pick of one of our fields this week and encountered many bags just like these as well as lots of dog mess that hadn’t been picked up at all.

Dog mess bags

(c) Marianne Fairclough

I hope this has given you a better idea of what farmers test their cattle for and has highlighted the importance of being vigilant as a dog owner and what the consequences can be if dog mess is left in fields where livestock roam. Please, bag it and bin it.