The Importance of Cattle Health Schemes


What is Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS)?

CHeCS is the self-regulatory body for cattle health schemes in the UK and Ireland. It is a non-trading organisation established by the cattle industry for the control and eradication of individual diseases, using a set of standards to which all members must adhere.‘

Health schemes, such as Biobest‘s ―HiHealth Herdcare‖ are designed to reduce losses from disease, increase profitability and health of the herd by preventing the entry of major infectious diseases and by controlling and eradicating infectious agents when they are present within the herd. Firstly testing is carried out to assess the health status of your herd, steps are then taken to improve the health status using disease reduction strategies (vaccination, biosecurity, eradication) and finally maintaining the health status by regular monitoring.

The major infectious diseases included in the health scheme are: Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR), Leptospirosis, Johne‘s and more recently Neospora.

What are the benefits of belonging to a health scheme?

A cattle health scheme enables you to control and eliminate disease from your herd. This will reduce animal losses such as mortality and abortions, increase productivity and increase the sale value of breeding animals because they can be accredited as ‗disease free‘.

Animal Health:

By identifying the diseases on your farm and taking measures to control and eradicate these, your animals will be healthier. Many of the infectious diseases present on UK farms cause a degree of immunosuppression, this leads to livestock being less able to fight other pathogens they may encounter. Accredited herds are therefore at lower risk of pneumonia, scours and other illness.

Financial gain:

Disease represents a huge cost to both the UK cattle industry and individual herds. Controlling and eradicating disease will show a very noticeable reduction in annual losses. These costs are seen in slightly different ways for each specific disease and are not always directly noticed; but in general these include ill health, reduced fertility, increased vet costs and individual animal losses. For example, it is known that in just 10 years, uncontrolled BVD in a 100 cow suckler herd can cost at least £45,000 to the farm (http:// Reduced growth rates as a result of disease can have an effect on key live weights preventing you from achieving targets such as the average 200 day calf weight of 160 kg that Red Polls would be averaging at.


Buying and selling cattle from herds that are known to be disease free is becoming ever more important. Herds that are members of health schemes are less inclined to purchase cattle from non-health scheme herds, as it puts them at risk of introducing diseases they have worked so hard to eradicate. As a vet I also would deter a farmer from looking to buy animals from herds whose animals are of unknown disease status. Herds belonging to health schemes are able to provide an owner‘s declaration of health status, this gives buyers the confidence that they are not buying in disease. Farmers that hold accredited free status will pay a premium on cattle in order to maintain their status and therefore getting on board with a health scheme can allow you to get improved sale prices.


Showing cattle is a large part of owning pedigree animals, however every time we take an animal to a show, whether we belong to a cattle health scheme or not, we are at risk of picking up diseases. The more herds that become members of a health scheme, the less of a risk showing becomes. Belonging to a health scheme provides you with a strategy to keep your herd protected from disease during the show season, allowing you to have peace of mind that you are not bringing disease back home with you on your return.


Many European countries including members of the United Kingdom (Scotland and Ireland) have taken steps to eradicate infectious diseases. Scotland achieved official free status of TB in 2009 and are well on their way to eradicating BVD, followed closely behind by Northern Ireland. I believe sometime in the future England will also look to become free of diseases such as BVD, this is unlikely to come without legislations of testing and culling your animals and in my opinion it is better to be ahead of the game in this regard.

A bit about the individual diseases


BVD virus affects reproduction in the cow (abortion and poor fertility), detrimentally affects the unborn calf, contributes to pneumonia and other diseases in young stock by reducing their ability to fight off disease, and in addition can cause severe diarrhoea. The most important effect is during pregnancy, the virus can cause abortion of the foetus, or cause calf deformities. If the cow is infected during the first third of the pregnancy, the calf may become persistently infected with the virus (a 'PI' calf). The PI calf will then shed the virus into the environment throughout its life subjecting the rest of the herd to the disease. On occasion the BVD can develop into a severe fatal disease called mucosal disease which inevitably leads to death shortly after the onset. Eradicating BVD involves firstly testing animals to determine herd prevalence, if exposure has occurred, to locate the PI (s) if there is one and cull these. In order to maintain disease free status a combination of vaccination (in some circumstances) along with strict biosecurity procedures are upheld.


IBR virus causes a severe respiratory disease and or reproductive failure (abortion and poor fertility) and inflammation of genitalia. Once an animal has been infected, it remains a carrier for life, with periods of stress (such as movement, starting a bull in work or housing) triggering shedding of virus. The virus is spread via the respiratory tract and eye secretions, and also through semen. Prevalence of IBR within the herd is revealed through testing of all cattle over one year of age. Vaccination is possible in eradication with the marker vaccine and strict biosecurity is a must to prevent the disease entering the herd.


Is a bacterial disease that affects the intestines of the animal, it damages the intestinal wall which leads to chronic wasting of the animal it infects. The characteristic presentation of Johne‘s is a cow losing condition, scouring and will eventually lead to death (not always presented in this way). Unfortunately there is no cure to this disease. Young calves are the most susceptible and the majority of cases of Johne‘s are contracted in the first few weeks of life; however due to the long incubation period of the disease cattle do not normally show signs of Johne‘s until later in life. The major route of transmission of the bacteria is via the faecal-oral route. The estimated cost of having Johne‘s on a 100 cow beef unit is £1600 annually.


This bacterial disease as well as affecting cattle can also infect humans (zoonotic). In cattle it can cause abortion, still births, poor fertility, weak calves, and acute illness in adult cows. The bacteria are present in the reproductive tract and kidneys being shed in the urine. Infected urine can pass into streams and other water sources indirectly infecting cattle when out on pasture. Vaccination may prevent some clinical disease but will not prevent the herd becoming infected. Biosecurity is crucial in preventing this disease.


Neosporosis is a disease caused by the protozoa Neospora Caninum. Neospora causes abortion in cattle and less commonly neurological disease in calves. The life cycle of the protozoa requires dogs and foxes to be completed. Prevention of the disease therefore relies largely on dog and fox control.



How to achieve accreditation


A check test is carried out on 5 calves from each separately managed group (aged 9-18 months). A second check test is carried out 12 monthslater. Accredited statusis obtained if all results are negative (vaccination still possible with accreditation).


Subject to herd history, two or three herd tests are carried out on all animals aged 2 years and older at intervals of 12 months. Accreditation status level is obtained if all results are negative.


Two herd tests are carried out at an interval of between four weeks and twelve months. All animals aged 12 months and older, plus non-homebred younger animals must be sampled. Accredited status is obtained if all results are negative (vaccination still possible with accreditation).


Two herd tests are carried out at an interval of between 5 and 12 months. All animals aged over 24 months plus any stock aged 12 to 24 monthsthat are intended for breeding must be tested. Accredited status is obtained if all results are negative.


How to achieve accreditation?

What to do now?

If, like many other members of the Red Poll Society, you would also like to find out the disease status of your herd and take steps to improve the health and profitability of your animals, your local vet should be able to provide you with all the information you may need to get going with this. The CHeCS website also has a wealth of documentation on the Ts and Cs of accreditation. We at Westpoint Farm Vets work in partnership with Biobest Laboratories, and support the use of their ―HiHealth Herdcare Scheme.

Taken from the Red Poll Cattle Society Newsletter No 104, Spring 2016

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