Dog owners blamed as outbreak of disease claims farm’s calves

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An outbreak of Neosporosis on a Yorkshire dairy farm has led to 11 calves being aborted by their mothers in just three weeks, with the blame falling on irresponsible dog owners failing to clean up after their pets.

The disease case, for which there is no vaccine or treatment, happened on a dairy farm in Barkisland, near Halifax, West Yorkshire. The only way of eliminating Neosporosis from a herd is a cull of infected animals.

The disease is caused by a single-cell parasite called Neospora caninum and affects mainly cattle, dogs and other canids such as foxes. The life-cycle of the parasite requires both dog and cattle host, but it only reaches full maturity and begins to reproduce in its canine host. Once transmitted to cattle it can result in abortion or the birth of premature, impaired or infected calves.

The farm in Barkisland has experienced one or two cases over the last three years, but the situation has reached critical point recently with 15 heifers aborting their first calf in the last few months and 11 cows aborting calves in the last three weeks. The impact of the disease is considerable, with farmers facing the emotional blow of having to lose their animals, as well as the significant economic impact that a cull entails.

NFU regional livestock adviser Richard Potts said: “It has been estimated that 12.5 per cent of abortions in dairy cattle in England and Wales – about 6000 a year – may be attributable to Neosporosis.

“If infected dog waste is left in situ, not only can cattle contract the parasite from grazing, but it can also potentially get into grass silage made by the farmer to feed his animals in the winter. In that instance the risk of spreading the disease to many more animals is significantly increased.”