Livestock farmers are being encouraged to investigate all unexplained abortions or stillbirths in their herds or flocks.

Ruminant Health & Welfare (RH&W) chairman, Nigel Miller, says not enough farmers are reporting and investigating unexplained reproductive losses among their livestock.

“Veterinary surveillance is vitally important to identify disease threats on farm, and to monitor and map the health status for our national herd and flock, adds Mr Miller.

“Abortion investigations are a powerful tool that enable the early detection and management of new or re-emerging conditions on farm. At national level, abortion investigation data identifies risks and maps their impact.

“ This valuable information provides veterinarians and livestock managers with flock or herd risk management priorities and help to identify where steps can be taken, “Mr Miller explains.

He says many farmers may be deterred from investigating reproductive losses due to the distance of their farm from laboratory facilities, however, easy-to-use abortion sampling kits are available and make submitting the right samples relatively easy. Especially when transporting the foetus and placenta to the investigation centre is not practical.

“Both farm vets and veterinary laboratories provide guidance on the submission and sampling of aborted material with both the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and SRUC providing user-friendly kits for sampling, to make the submission of quality material easier,” adds Mr Miller.

“The obligation to report cow abortions is a core part of the Brucella monitoring system which underpins the free status of the national herd. However, as a rule of thumb, all farmers experiencing abortion levels above two per cent in their herd or flock, or three or more cases, should seek a full veterinary investigation.

“This will involve the investigation of the aborted material and placenta, supported by blood testing affected animals when required.”

He says high-quality samples are crucial and can underpin good diagnostic rates in sheep. However, with cattle subject to a very diverse range of abortion risks, diagnostic rates in cattle can sometimes be disappointing for both abortions and stillbirths.

A no-firm diagnosis is not the end of the story. The systematic abortion investigation approaches used in laboratories is about ruling out conditions as well as attempting to bolt down a firm diagnosis.

When a no-firm diagnosis is achieved, a list of conditions that have been ruled out can often be provided – the negative list. Farm vets can help clients to gain value from investigation reports and where appropriate highlight features of the negative list that are significant. The negative list can often rule out conditions that are of real concern to the flock or herd manager.

British Cattle Veterinary Association president and RH&W steering group member, Colin Mason, says: “Farmers should not underestimate the benefit of investigating all abortions as unexplained events and potential indicators in changes to group health status.”

Farmers who experience an abortion or stillbirth in their cattle or sheep are advised to speak to their vet and contact APHA or SRUC about getting an investigation carried out.