CHECS TB Herd Accreditation has been available since 2016. In summer 2021, CHECS launched TB Entry Level Membership. It was developed from a concept raised in the Bovine TB Strategy Review (also known as the Godfray review), that cattle farmers could adopt a baseline standard of ‘no regrets’ biosecurity measures to reduce risk of a TB breakdown.
CHECS TB Entry Level Membership is designed to initiate discussions between farmer and veterinary surgeon about biosecurity and disease pathways. The vet signing off the agreed biosecurity commitment under each Risk Factor needs to be a trained BCVA-Accredited TB Veterinary Advisor (BATVA). Any farmers joining CHECS TB Herd Accreditation after 1 August 2021 will need to complete CHECS TB Entry Level Membership as part of accreditation.
The CHECS TB programmes aim to help cattle farmers take a proactive approach to controlling TB and reduce risk of a breakdown. The programmes are especially advantageous if you are:
If you are already working with a CHECS licensed health scheme, you will find both TB programmes straightforward to incorporate into your existing regime.
The primary benefit of CHECS TB Entry Level Membership is reduced risk of a TB breakdown, with the added opportunity to prove a good standard of biosecurity to customers or purchasers. With CHECS TB Herd Accreditation, there are earned recognition opportunities from both the Welsh Government and Defra:
England: Herds in the HRA and Edge areas of England on six-monthly testing can remain on annual testing if they are CHECS TB Herd Accredited and have a score of at least 1.
Furthermore, when animals moved into a TB breakdown herd are subsequently removed as TB reactors, the standard 50% reduction in compensation does not apply if the herd is CHECS TB Herd Accredited.
Both programmes are organised under six biosecurity Risk Factors:
CHECS TB Entry Level Membership offers a number of options within each Risk Factor; you are required to commit to one from each.
CHECS TB Herd Accreditation builds on CHECS TB Entry Level Membership, with further requirements under the same six categories and, in some cases, asking for multiple criteria to be met in each. If you apply for CHECS TB Herd Accreditation you must, from August 2021, complete CHECS TB Entry Level Membership as part of becoming accredited.
Bovine TB is caused by Mycobacterium bovis or M.bovis. M bovis can also infect other mammals including deer, goats and camelids. It is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be spread to humans although routine pasteurisation of milk is very effective at preventing M.bovis infection in man.
Bovine TB is a notifiable animal disease and must be reported immediately. It is one of the biggest disease challenges facing the UK and Irish cattle farming sector today.
Any farmer with cattle, bison or buffalo is legally required to carry out surveillance testing of their animals for TB. The interval between each test depends on the region of the country where the farm is located and previous disease history. Maps are available providing information on the different risk areas and testing requirements.
The default TB testing interval in England for cattle herds in the Low Risk Area is 48 months, and for most of the High Risk Area (HRA) is 12 months. In the Edge Area, herds are routinely TB tested annually or six-monthly. Default six-monthly surveillance testing was implemented for herds in Staffordshire and Shropshire in September 2020 and is being extended to the rest of the HRA from July 2021. Herds at lower risk of TB in the High Risk and Edge Areas can remain on annual testing if they satisfy certain criteria, one of which is CHECS TB Herd Accreditation.
In Wales, annual herd testing has been in place since 2010 as a default, with herds in the Intensive Action Area (IAA) tested twice a year. Low, Intermediate and High TB areas were established on 1 October 2017 based on incidence of disease.
Scotland was designated officially tuberculosis free (OTF) in September 2009, and remains so. Changes were introduced to exempt low risk herds from the default routine testing that takes place every 48 months in all other non-exempt herds.
Annual testing of all herds in Northern Ireland is mandatory.
Under EU and national rules, all animals on a holding in the Republic of Ireland (with the exception of calves under six weeks old) must be tested annually.
TB is a chronic, mainly respiratory disease. Cattle can become infected by inhaling and/or ingesting bacteria coughed or sneezed by infected animals in close proximity. It can also be spread from infected dams to their calves during suckling. Contaminated equipment, animal waste, feed and pasture are also sources of infection. In endemic areas of England and Wales, infection can be spread to and from and carried by the wildlife reservoir of badgers.
The regular TB testing of cattle means the likelihood of seeing clinical signs of the disease is low.
It’s not easy to identify clinical signs of TB as they’re not dissimilar to other diseases and only really develop in advanced stages of infection. Compulsory national testing programmes are usually where the disease is identified, or it can be detected during inspection of slaughtered cattle.
Clinical signs include cattle losing weight and getting thinner, having a fever that keeps returning, or appearing weak with a poor appetite.
Further signs to be aware of include swollen lymph nodes in areas like the neck. Some infected cattle present with a moist cough that worsens in the morning and during cold weather or exercise. Chronic mastitis not cured by antibiotics could also be an indicator of TB infection.
There are a number of practical steps farmers can take to improve their herd’s resilience to TB.
Stop infected cattle entering herd
Better manage feed and water
Reduce risk from neighbouring cattle
Prevent badger/cattle contact
Minimise infection risk from slurry
The screening of TB in cattle around the world is largely done using the single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin test (SICCT), commonly known as the skin test. This internationally accepted standard for detecting M. bovis infection in live animals is used in conjunction with interferon-gamma blood testing in known infected herds under TB restrictions. Where there are persistent and chronic breakdowns of TB, or unresolved tests then antibody (serological) tests can be used.
Vaccination programmes for both badgers and cattle may have a role to play in disease control. There is a licensed vaccine for use in badgers but administration requires cage trapping and dosing by licensed individuals. There is currently no licensed cattle vaccine although field trials began in 2021 on the Cattle BCG vaccine and DIVA skin test. BCG-based vaccines do not provide complete protection against infection.