There are a paucity of data quantifying on-farm management practices such as the frequency of intraherd cattle movements, use of consolidated or spatially fragmented grazing pastures, and duration of time cattle spend at grass with respect to biosecurity and disease transmission. Such movement dynamics are important when attempting to understand the maintenance of chronic infectious disease, such as bovine tuberculosis (bTB). We captured empirical data on daily cattle movements for a sample of eighteen farms throughout one complete grazing season (n = 18,988 grazing days) and assessed these attributes in relation to herd bTB risk.
Dairy herds were stocked at significantly higher densities compared to beef production systems (6.6 animals/ha, 95 % confidence intervals (CI) 6.5–6.7 and 4.1 animals/ha, 95 %CI 4.1 – 4.1 respectively, p < 0.001). Most notably milking cows, were grazed at higher densities than other life stages (e.g. calves, heifers and bullocks) (p < 0.001) and experienced four times the number of movements between pastures. Beef cattle were more likely to be grazed across multiple (rather than single) fields (p < 0.001), with greater time spent on fragmented land away from the main/home farm (p < 0.001). None of the farm or herd attributes analysed (e.g. stocking density, frequency of movement, movement distances or land fragmentation) were associated with herd bovine tuberculosis (bTB) breakdowns during this study. However, there was a weak positive association between bTB breakdowns during the 3 years prior to the study and cattle movement distances (p = 0.05) and time spent on fragmented land (p = 0.08). After a bTB breakdown occurs, restrictions on animals moving out of these herds are implemented to control disease spread, yet we argue that more attention is needed on the role of intraherd grazing patterns in modelling disease transmission risk between herds.