CHECS is focussing on biosecurity 'basics' to help farmers reduce the risk of bovine TB (bTB) in its new TB Entry Level Membership.

bTB is the UK’s most challenging animal health and welfare issue, costing farms around £18,600 per breakdown and in some cases more.

“Farmers often think that TB is uncontrollable, but biosecurity is a key tool in tackling it,” says Keith Cutler MRCVS, chair of the CHECS technical committee.

“It is far more than just having a boot dip on the yard; but it can be easily implemented and doesn’t have to be expensive.”

CHECS launched its TB Herd Accreditation in 2016 to help farmers protect their herds against the disease, but the tough requirements resulted in limited take-up.

Following Defra’s response to the Bovine TB Strategy (Godfray) Review in March 2020, CHECS and the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BVCA) developed the new TB Entry Level Membership.

A key take-home message from the Godfray review was that there needs to be a step change in industry behaviour, says Sarah Tomlinson MRCVS, TB Advisory Service, who helped to develop the Entry Level approach.

“It was recognised that TB Herd Accreditation doesn’t suit all farms and businesses, so TB Entry Level Membership bridges this gap and makes an accessible scheme for all to get involved at their own level.

“The Government recognises the important role private vets can play in TB eradication and the need to increase engagement in TB biosecurity. The Entry Level scheme promotes all of these elements on farm."

The aim of the ‘no regrets’ biosecurity measures is that they shouldn’t require large financial investment and can be easily managed between the farmer and their vet.

“Entry Level allows vets and farmers to discuss biosecurity and disease transmission pathways, and implement a tailored plan for the farm that can be reviewed and amended with ease,” said Ms Tomlinson.

“All farmers should be able to make improvements; even those who are already addressing the risk factors can make minor amends to comply.”

This proactive strategy should reduce the risk of infection, duration of breakdowns and re-infection.

“It’s a case of accepting there are things that will be out of your control but tackling what can be controlled,” she said.

So how does TB Entry Level Membership work?

“It is based on six risk factors, with the farmer and their vet choosing at least one option from each risk factor,” explains Ms Tomlinson.

“The options are all set around good biosecurity, which is based on evidence of transmission routes.

"This is about implementing common sense, involving mainly time and effort.”

The six risk factors are:

  • Minimise TB risk from purchased cattle (eg only buying cattle from lower-risk herds)
  • Minimise TB risk from cattle in other herds (eg never grazing cattle on contiguous grazing at the same time as a neighbour’s cattle)
  • Minimise TB risk from your own animals (eg cull inconclusive reactors)
  • Minimise the spread of TB through muck or slurry (eg no imported slurry or muck used on cattle grazing land)
  • Reduce TB risk from badgers (eg monitor for badger activity with cameras or mapping)
  • Have a TB test failure contingency plan (eg have a plan for youngstock to leave the farm)

To get involved, farmers need to apply through a participating CHECS cattle health scheme.