BVD Control: a four-step plan

2 July 2019

Samantha Tennent, DairyNZ developer

Controlling bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) is vital to avoid its damaging effects on dairy herds’ health, reproductive performance and productivity. DairyNZ’s Samantha Tennent explains.

Managing BVD should be an important part of farmers’ biosecurity measures. Failing to do so can be costly: studies in New Zealand put the cost at between about $110 and $180 per cow, or about $70,000 annually for an average-sized infected herd.

About BVD

Sub-fertility, abortions, reduced milk production, and calf diarrhoea and pneumonia, are common symptoms of BVD virus infection. However, the symptoms of BVD can look similar to other diseases, so testing is essential to confirm its presence. To control BVD you must identify each animal’s status and:

  • remove any persistently infected (PI) animals on-farm
  • prevent any new PI animals being born on or introduced to the farm
  • ensure incoming PI-clear animals are not transiently infected (TI).

PI animals are formed when naïve (not immune to BVD) cows become infected with BVD in the first four to five months of pregnancy, producing a calf infected with BVD for life. PI calves often have poor immunity and appear ill-thrifty (growing more slowly than expected) but some appear normal and enter the herd. TI animals are those which are temporarily infected with BVD.

Four-step BVD control

Ensure you work with your vet through each of these steps.

1. Define

BVD diagnostic tests are highly accurate. A simple bulk milk screening test to look for antibodies against the virus is a good place to start.

2. Assess

In: Cattle coming onto the farm, including their foetuses. People, equipment and vehicles coming onto the farm. Out: Heifers and carry-over cows grazing off-farm, including heifers returning pregnant. Contact: Avoid cattle contact across neighbouring fences.

3. Act

Take action to create a control plan, which could include these steps below.

  • Test incoming animals (including bulls and calves born onto the property) for the virus and cull any PI animals identified.
    • Make sure bulls have been fully vaccinated prior to arrival.
    • Vaccinated animals should still be tested to confirm they’re not PI.
  • Vaccinate cows and heifers to protect them during their pregnancy, and vaccinate bulls used for mating.
  • Change management practices to reduce the risk of exposure, e.g. put outriggers on boundary fences.

4. Monitor

Regular monitoring is essential to detect any incursions early and minimise their impact.

Learn more

Get more BVD information and resources at and check out our biosecurity information (and our Biosecurity WOF) at This article was originally published in Inside Dairy July 2019

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