Cattle and badger dynamics in relation to the potential transmission of Mycobacterium bovis

  • Emma Campbell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

The transmission of Mycobacterium bovis between and among cattle and badgers represents an area of research which continues to pose many questions in the pursuit to eradicate the disease from cattle herds within the UK and Ireland. Predominant queries remain over when and where both species become infected, how likely infection is to occur, and how can transmission events be minimised. This thesis aimed to assess 1) the number of indirect contacts between the species, 2) locations where indirect contacts can occur, 3) the behaviour of badgers in relation to cattle related pastures and 4) management of cattle at pasture in relation to bTB risks. Data was collected using three different methods; camera traps, GPS collars deployed on badgers and cattle grazing locations recorded by farmers.

The results found that setts and latrines were focal points for indirect contact between badgers and cattle throughout the studies. Not only did camera traps find cattle investigating these locations but farmers were not actively avoiding the locations when designating grazing fields for cattle use. Since M. bovis can survive in the environment it is pertinent to ensure cattle cannot access these locations, ideally by avoiding the fields but if this is not possible then by erecting barricades i.e. fencing to prevent cattle access. Badgers avoided fields with cattle present, this was confirmed by both camera traps and collared badgers. Forage and rough pasture fields were preferred by badgers, and cattle grazing in these fields should be avoided to help reduce co-occurrence.

Implementing changes to cattle management at grass could reduce contact between local herds therefore reducing transmission between herds. This study suggests that 18% of grazing days were spent adjacent to neighbouring herds, land fragments of farms overlapped with multiple other farms and animals in herds moved approximately 27.5km during the grazing season. Recommendations to reduce neighbour contacts include; avoid grazing boundary fields, double fencing if not possible, minimise the number of land fragments used by grazing cattle and moving cattle between spatially close fields. Recommendations are made that are low cost, low tech and could be achievable by farmers on most farms. The recommendations should be communicated to farmers to help raise awareness.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsDepartment of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs
SupervisorNeil Reid (Supervisor), Michael Scantlebury (Supervisor) & William Montgomery (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Bovine Tuberculosis
  • cattle
  • badgers
  • epidemiology
  • disease transmission
  • grazing

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