Monday, February 18, 2008

Another Llama farmer 'devastated'.

Bovine tuberculosis has hit a llama herd in West Wales, killing half the animals. Western Telegraph reports that Wales' second largest herd of llamas has been decimated by an outbreak of bTb.

Although cattle are routinely tested for the disease, llamas and other camelids are not. Neither are their breeders compensated for their full market value. The absence of a test meant that bovine TB was not picked up in Liz Ford's herd of 25 llama at Bower Farm before the onset of clinical symptoms. Half are now dead.

"They succumbed very quickly. They became weak and ill and developed a severe cough. If a compulsory test had been in place, the disease would have been picked up sooner and some could have been saved. It is very difficult when animals are sick, and there are no rules on how to deal with it," said Mrs. Ford.

Livestock farmers in Wales who lose animals to bovine Tb are compensated for their replacement value, and for cattle in England the infamous 'tabular system' operates - or not, depending on ones' point of view - but no such payment structure exists for llamas. And, as is the case for cattle farmers in areas of endemic Tb, insurance is not obtainable, companies only offering such umbrellas when there is minimal disease risk.

The Western Telegraph reports that Mrs. Ford has received what was termed an 'ex gratia' payment, which was equivalent to just one third of what each animal was worth. She says that the Welsh Assembly only agreed to test the herd, after she had signed a document accepting this level of payment.

Many llama farms are run as breeding enterprises, with animals sold all over the country where they become fashion - statement lawnmowers. Only when breeding stock are exported or during the sale of surplus culls into the food chain, is any form of Tb disease check carried out. In the case of exports, that involves a skin test and for meat a post mortem carcass inspection.

From comments on a previous post, we understand that llamas are notoriously difficult to skin test.

Veterinary officials from the Welsh Assembly are now testing the herd but, unlike the 60-day gap between tests in cattle, these tests will only be done every 90 days. Mrs Ford says this is too long and has caused huge management problems. The Welsh Assembly admits there is currently no legislation for testing llama for bovine TB.

We covered a similar story in November . Members of the EFRA committee left their corridors of power and visited a llama farm in Devon, whose owners were equally 'devastated' when bTb hit their farm near Crediton.


Anonymous said...

Yes "If a compulsory test had been in place, the disease would have been picked up sooner and some could have been saved".

A voluntary test would have done the same thing and would have saved money perhaps by fewer animals being lost.

Matthew said...

Anon. 11.30

A bit harsh. No one expects their animals to go down with Tb - especially as has been pointed out on this site often enough - the operative word is 'bovine Tb' - as in cattle.

The implication being that it affects cattle and nothing else. It comes as a shock to some pet owners that companion animals, large and small are also susceptible.

You're right in that an earlier test may have saved a few llamas - but only cattle are compulsorily tested with, at present, Defra paying for tuberculin antigens and veterinary time. No such system exists for any other species. And a test for this herd would have have had to be sanctioned by the Welsh Assembly and paid for by the owner.

Anonymous said...

"as has been pointed out on this site often enough - the operative word is 'bovine Tb' - as in" badger

"The implication being that it" is caused by badgers

"And a test for this herd would have have had to be sanctioned by the Welsh Assembly" didn't realise that Wales was a police state with the government having total control over animal testing. Is this correct that an animal owner cannot have a private TB test done without special permission?

Matthew said...

Anon 2.58

M. bovis entered this herd of llamas somehow - as yet it is unclear how. But it didn't fly in on the man in the moon.

Either an infected animal carried it in or an infected human - in some form or another.
That infected animal could be another llama if such had been purchased, or wildlife. Cattle are an unlikely source, being rarely infectious - even to their herdmates, and llamas being pretty securely fenced.

Obviously the Welsh Assembly local veterinary officers will be looking at avenues of possible infection.

With regard to private testing, bTb is a very serious zoonosis and thus testing procedure and protocol is regulated by the OIE (Office des International Epizootics) and the EU.

Tuberculin antigens (bovine and avian) used for testing are regulated by Veterinary Laboratories agency, Weybridge and only distributed through the State veterinary services.
Test results are 'owned' by them.

So any owner of exotic animals has to apply through his or her vet, to the local Animal Health office for permission to use the test, and the antigens with which to conduct it.

With llamas and other exotic species, the owner will pay for the test as well.

George said...

Unfortunately, as you said, the tuberculin test is not very good in camelids – the sensitivity is rather low - this is one of the reasons that test is not used as part of an official scheme. So testing earlier might not have helped, and clearing this disease from a herd is tricky. This is particularly worrying as llamas and alpacas are becoming commoner and they may become infective before anyone realises they are infected.

Anonymous said...

George said...

Unfortunately, as you said, the tuberculin test is not very good in camelids

It's not very good in cattle either George!

hence GI

Matthew said...

Anon. 9.13

The intradermal skin test.

"The tuberculin skin test for cattle has been compulsory in Great Britain since 1950. This is the test prescribed by the OIE for international trade, as well as under EU Directive 64/432/EEC on animal health problems affecting intra-Community trade in bovine animals.."
(Parliamentary Questions Col218W 8/12/2003 [ 141968]

"The comparative skin test at standard interpretation, provides sensitivety in the range 68 percent to 95 percent and specificity in the range 96 per cent to 99 per cent."
(Parliamentary Questions: Col 382W 28/01/04 [ 150495])

"Any single test with imperfect sensitivety, when applied more than once to an infected animal, will cause the overall sensitivety of the pocedure to rapidly approach 100 per cent".
(Parliamentary Questions: Col 988W 25/03/04 [158720]

"All countries that have either eradicated, or have a programme to control, bovine tuberculosis use one or more forms of the skin test. The Government are not aware of any country that has replaced the skin test as the primary test for bovine tuberculosis"
(Parliamentary questions. Col 540W 30/01/2004 [150492])

"Evidence from other countries has shown that in the absence of a significant wildlife reservoir, cattle controls based on regular testing and slaughter, inspection at slaughterhouses, and movement restrictions (including tracing and contiguous testing) can be effective at controlling Tb...)
(Parliamentary Questions: Col 989W 25/03/04 [159061])