It was set up as a regulatory body to monitor and set standards for CHECS licensed cattle health schemes throughout the UK and Ireland. Its remit was to ensure that herd health standards provided by one scheme not only achieved results but were also consistent and equivalent to others, and comparable with similar licensed schemes globally.
CHECS initially received funding from the Milk Development Council (now AHDB Dairy), and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) provided administrative support. It is now overseen by the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), the National Beef Association (NBA) and Holstein UK, with the NFU having a seat on the Board.
By 2004, only 1% of UK herds were in a CHECS scheme but, eight years later, almost 14,000 herds were in some form of cattle disease monitoring, control and eradication programme. Of the nearly 10,000 members of CHECS licensed schemes, around 70% are beef herds and 30% are dairy.
The four infectious diseases initially covered by CHECS were BVD, IBR, Leptospirosis and Johne’s Disease; Neospora was added to the list in 2015. Biosecurity is a critical element of all CHECS protocols and so, in 2016, bovine TB (TB) Herd Accreditation was added because of the relevance of the risk-based approach that CHECS had taken to Johne’s Disease control. This was the first statutory disease in the CHECS portfolio. In 2021, CHECS introduced TB Entry Level Membership, a standalone standard that also forms the biosecurity basis of CHECS TB Herd Accreditation. The programme offers a range of easily-achievable ‘no regrets’ biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of a TB breakdown.
Over the years, CHECS has developed and forged links with cattle farmers, breed societies, vets, laboratories, Government bodies and animal welfare organisations in the UK and overseas. To ensure that best practice is maintained and the latest science considered, a technical group drawn from BCVA, CHECS-licensed health scheme providers and international experts meets every year to review the Technical Document.
It’s fair to say that in the early days of CHECS, its standards were wrongly perceived as elitist and only relevant to pedigree herds. But over the years, as cattle diseases continue to wreak destruction on farms, both vets and producers are fast realising the commercial, welfare and reputation benefits of improving herd health and being part of recognised and robust schemes.
Despite its reach, CHECS remains a small, industry-led not-for-profit organisation, run mainly by volunteers, with only two part-time staff plus a contracted auditor.