Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Suggestions to BAS

This is an excerpt taken from a letter sent in October 2009 to the BAS

As Alpaca owners we are very concerned at the explosive and devastating spread of BTB. We were all under the impression that alpacas were not very susceptible to TB, but we now know this to be a complete fallacy. They are in fact highly susceptible, more so than most other farmed animals.

Over the past few years, some isolated cases of BTB have been pushed under the carpet with no thought whatsoever for the future of the Alpaca industry. The situation is now out of control with cases occurring widely. This has been caused by the largely innocent cycle of showing, on-farm matings and general unrestricted movements. If something is not done immediately, we will no longer have an Alpaca industry. Our animals will be unsaleable, and will be treated with the same contempt as badgers, possible even facing complete eradication.

Due to the fact alpacas with BTB generally show few physical symptoms and the testing system (i.e skin tests) are as accurate as tossing a coin, nothing can be done until an accurate test is established for Camelids. At present the only accurate diagnosis is at post mortem, a trifle too late! …………..

It goes on to suggest that:

Serious consideration given to postponing Alpaca shows for the time being, until such time as animals can be accurately tested or vaccinated.

Breeders with affected herds should be encouraged to be more open with their BTB status and to be given help and support.

Breeders who knowingly have BTB in their herds and carry on business as usual should be excluded from the BAS.

Do you think that these suggestions would help to contain the spread of Tb in Alpacas?


  1. How can you know who the infected herds are?

    Although you should consider the risk, don't let all this stuff about showing take your eye off the ball. The biggest risks are infected local wildlife (virtually all alpaca cases have their local strain)and alpacas on, or returning from agisted matings on infected farms. Unless you know different (please give details here if so), there have not been any cases caught at a show - the one herd who claims that they have, has their local strain and comes from a high incidence bTB area. Do not think you are not at risk because you do not show - take all precautions, especially excluding wildlife from your land, and visiting and asking hard questions of anyone you do business with.

  2. When a cattle herd has a TB breakdown, the local AHO will come asking a shedload of questions, including inspecting and copying the farm movement records which are compulsory for cattle farms.
    This is known as a 'Risk Assessment' and known (or perceived as possible), risks of TB transmission, the officer will chart as 'High', 'Low' or 'No' risk at all.

    These 'risks' include purchased cattle, cattle contact over a boundary fence, shared slurry spreaders and wildlife - especially badgers.
    Not sure what happens with alpacas. Is this 'Risk assessment' done at all?

    If you have introduced no new animals into your herd for over a year for instance, not sent any females for mating jaunts or exhibted at shows where they could mix with others, and don't share a narrow (wire?) boundary with other mammals, then TB didn't come into your herd with the tooth fairy.

    We know now that once into an alpaca herd, TB spread can be rapid and deadly. But where was case zero? What contact carried the disease in, in the first place? And more impportantly, is it still happening?

  3. In reply to 1st comment from anon - How do we know if herds are infected? The answer is WE DON'T. Alpacas and llamas can be riddled with Tb and show no outward signs or symptoms.

    We all know the original source of Tb is from wildlife but 6 of the herds in the Tb Support group have TB from either purchase or from agisited matings or long-term agistment - All not the local strain type - so in other words IT CAME IN A TRUCK.

    I, and many others, cannot understand why anyone would want to take an unnecessary risk moving alpacas and llamas around the country for shows or agisted matings.

    Sadly one of my herds in the group came out of restriction in Feb this year having had two round of negative skin tests. She sadly lost another last week and even though she is out of restriction she had a PM and Tb was confirmed - she is now sadly back under restriction again. Thankfully this herd had followed my advice and didn't attend any shows, nor sell, nor offer matings - thank heavens she was responsible - she knew the skin test is not reliable and therefore chose not to do any of these things can you imagine if she had!!!!!.

    She could have dug a big hole and buried it in the field but she didn't. How may others are being that responsible.!!!!!

    Thankfully those in the Tb Support Group are.

    Dianne Summers
    Tb Support Group

  4. Alpacas die horribly from bTB. I have held over 15 animals in my arms as they died, and in fact 4 of them I suffocated myself, because it was the only way to put them out of their misery (the nature of the country Nigel and I live in, Spain,is such that an animals suffering is not high on the list of priorities when it is known it will die) Some, once they go down, die relatively quickly others take hours.
    Because of the fact that alpacas have an amazing way of concealing illness, the lesions in their bodies develop to unbelievable proportions. These remain undetected by their keepers, therefor allowing the infected alpaca to shed enormous amounts of contamination.
    Alpacas DO spread bTB to other alpacas: I know.
    We, as alpaca lovers CAN contain this disease. But the most important factor in the control is, as I said in my article in BAS magazine last year, the development of a new camelid specific test for bTB. This new test is out there, but it needs validating. I have been in contact with the people developing this test at the Government Laboratories at Weybridge for many months now. They need 300 or so alpacas from non TB hotspots to participate in this validation. The BAS have sent out an appeal for owners to volunteer their herds. This, I feel, may be problematic for obvious reasons. Those of us who see the absolute necessity of this test may need to lobby for these alpacas to be made available, somehow. This test could be available to you in the UK very soon. Let' work together to make this happen.
    With best wishes to all
    Ginny Cobb

  5. We have talked extensively with our Norwegian government on biosecurity as we have conducted three imports so far, and in these talks we have talked about imports from the UK. The Norwegian government prefer that we do not consider importing from the UK because there are almost always some diseases in the UK. If there is an epidemic amongst livestock in Europe, the UK has it. Why is this so? Why can you not prevent these outbreaks when you live on an Island?
    When we talk to english breeders about biosecurity, the efforts are just not good enough. Have an imported herd on the same property as your old herd? No problem, says the breeder, while the Norwegian government cringes at the thought and we as well. The attitude towards this issue must change. Too many animals are dying.
    We truly hope you succeed.

  6. Knapper, perhaps you are talking and visiting the wrong breeders.

    We went to the TB awareness meetings in Exeter and it was clear that there are still breeders that are not taking the issue seriously, but a great many of us are.

    If you are importing from the UK then you should ask them to supply a self declaration form to be as sure as possible that they are not selling alpacas whilst under restriction or trying to pass off a negative skin test as proof that it does not have TB.

    Vet Gina Bromage has said that all on farm matings and shows should stop until there is a reliable ante mortem test. I would say do not deal with anyone that doesn't follow this advice.

    Remember also this is a zoonotic disease and exposure to possibly infected animals should be kept to a minimum.

  7. Being a disease that can cross species, including Humans, it might be wise to avoid shearing alpacas that possibly carry the disease. These alpacas should be shorn whilst the sheerer is wearing full protection. Infection can be passed via blood, urine and spit. The public should never be allowed to have physical contact with infected alpacas, breeders and vets have already contracted bTB from infected alpacas. There is a clear public health issue. Beware, seek medical advice if you think your health has been compromised.

  8. I totally agree - the HPA give the same advice. A recent herd under restriction held a shearing course on his farm and I noticed from the photos on certain blogs the attendees had no masks - gloves - protective clothing.
    HPA advice is no contact unless neccessary the owner and then use protective clothing - gloves - face masks etc and strict bio security measures. I cannot understand why the attendees didn't follow the HPa advice surely the herd owner told the attendees he was under restriction.

  9. We too went to the Exeter meeting and heard the very informative presentation given by a couple of guys who put the TB questionaire together. Their advice was excellent when coupled with the self assessment form in the handout. We actually phoned them and spent a very productive 20 minutes on the phone with them discussing the best and easiest way to secure our small plot against badgers. We have now reconsidered how we keep our stock and that move alone will hopefully help keep things under some form of control should the worst case happens. Living in Devon, we are very aware of the possibility of our local wildlife giving us the disease. Our only hope is that we are either very lucky and avoid it or we take some actions to help ourselves avoid introducing it. Can't remember what the guys names were, but thanks for opening our eyes to the very real threat that exists and thanks for the time you gave us discussing our problems.

  10. Dianne Summers18 May 2010 at 12:37

    The company is Field Services SouthWest 01872 241521 and they cover not only the southwest but most of the U.K. I myself hired this company to do a survey on my own farm. I am more than thrilled with the service and what they don't know about badgers isn't worth knowing. - They are experts in their field.
    I highly recommend everyone has the survey done - the cost is miniscule when you compare the cost of a single loss to Tb. One of my group has losses around £125,000 so far so £300 - the cost I paid for the survey is worth it.

  11. To Anon (post 5/5/10).
    I cannot be certain that my alpacas caught the disease from a show but, the facts are that my first three deaths were from my show team (all had it within 3 weeks of each other)and all of the later deaths were either in the show team,or in close contact with them. Defra would like to think it came from the local badgers, however, all of our nearest farms with TB have a different spoligotype to us. My next door cattle farm has never had a TB breakdown and passed clear again two weeks ago.

    Defra told me that my VLA office were of the opinion that my herd contracted this from local wildlife. This was not what the VLA told me and is not what they believe. Last week they told me that they had never had any other opinion than that on the evidence, it is more probable than not that our alpacas contracted b TB at a show. I was told that their detailed map of our spoligotype locations showed none within a normal expected range for local transmission. Defra don't want to know because it is too difficult to trace and the only legal test for them to use (the comparative skin test) is useless - especially in a once only testing.

    I don't know what the risks are from showing. They maybe high or quite low. It is certain that the risks in 2010 are lower than in 2009 because the bio-security has been improved. However, without actual evidence, one cannot suggest that the risk is negligible. Each Alpaca breeder has to make their own assessment as to the risks and decide accordingly but, based on evidence that is not overly biased towards a particular view.

  12. The opinions of Gina Bromage are those that I would follow and they are that there should be no showing until there is a reliable ante mortem test

  13. Anyone taking their alpacas to the Devon County Show this weekend are either very brave or very ill advised. That has to be one of the most high risk venues in the UK when you look at the breeders that have entered alpacas into the show.

  14. One hopes and prays that the Devon breeder who exports and only came out of restriction in April having refused blood tests and knowing full well the skin test in alpacas fails to detect alpacas carrying TB isn't showing yet again. Hopefully the Devon County Show will ask for the self declaration forms THIS TIME and will abide by the Bio Security Guidelines THIS TIME. Who runs the Devon County Show? Are they are aware. Is it a BAS approved show?.

  15. Shoot the badgers in the TB-areas in south of England. Do some good fencing (large investment) around your land (dig the fence deep enough in the ground).
    I do not understand why the Britisch Government allways is very slow in making a good policy. We did see same problems with Mad Cow Disease. YOU WILL HAVE TO KILL THE BADGERS IN THE TB-AREA! They are the vectors which can't be controled. Eliminate futhermore all suspected animals. Don't take half measurements.

  16. Hi Leo

    We not only have to protect our farms from wildlife as you say - but the U.K. alpaca industry also have to be responsible, we have no movement orders - no pre movement testing etc etc we are free to move around the country as we like. No point in shooting all the badgers - then allow alpaca herds who come out of restriction on the skin test alone and then sell to your country and others in the U.K and Europe.
    Yes shoot the badgers as you say but perhaps shoot the irresponsible U.K breeders at the same time - who sell to you and fellow Europeans on the back of a skin test.
    No U.K. BAS member can refute the data on the skin test. A negative test means nothing.
    No point in putting up fencing after the fact -unless you have agreed to both blood tests. Once you have a single loss to Tb - its in your herd - no fencing will stop the spread.