Earlier this month, the Coleraine Times reported a case of botulism that occurred on a Northern Ireland farm on June 27th. The farmer lost five cattle, worth over £6,000, as a result of the disease.
The report said he believes the cattle contracted the fatal disease after a neighbouring farmer spread poultry litter, possibly contaminated with hen carcasses, on his fields.
Cases of suspected botulism have also been reported in the Republic this year, in counties Meath and Kildare.
Botulism is suspected as the cause of the sudden death of 10 animals on a farm in Co. Meath. While a suspected incidence of botulism last spring caused the death of up to 20 beef animals on a Co. Kildare farm.
It is understood that the handling and use of poultry litter may have contributed to the animal losses in both Meath and Kildare, and most recently in Coleraine, Co. Derry.
Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that produces dangerous toxins under low-oxygen conditions. Consuming material contaminated by these toxins results in the fatal disease, botulism.
There are seven types of C. botulinum toxins in existence (Types A, B, C1, D, E, F and G). Type D and C toxins are mainly associated with animal botulism cases.
Cattle are particularly susceptible to intoxication and all ages can be affected. Ingestion of the toxin, even a very small quantity, can be fatal within hours.
Wildlife and poultry carcasses can produce particularly high levels of Type D and C toxins and inappropriate storage or disposal of poultry litter or poultry carcasses can pose a risk of botulism for animals.
While poultry manure that does not contain residual poultry carcases is a valuable soil fertiliser, containing nitrogen and phosphorus, if not re-used properly it can pose a huge risk.
The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) outlines a strict Codes of Good Practice to be complied with by poultry farmers, poultry litter hauliers and end-users of poultry litter, in relation to the management, transport and use of poultry litter in order to minimise the risks of contamination of pasture to cattle on the end user’s farm and neighbouring farms.
Clinical signs of botulism in cattle include:
- Progressive weakness;
- Posterior ataxia;
- Progressive flaccid paralysis;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Clinically affected animals are generally bright and alert;
According to the DAFM, outbreaks tend to occur typically between March and November and are often associated with warm weather. However, winter cases have occurred in association with contaminated silage.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine licenced for use against botulism in the EU and no specific treatment other than supportive therapy of clinical signs. The only effective control against botulism is prevention.
The prevention of botulism requires minimising animal contact with decaying matter and preventing ingestion of feedstuffs contaminated with decaying materials, such as wildlife and poultry carcasses.
While botulism is not a notifiable disease in Ireland, it is advised that cases be reported your local DVO or Regional Veterinary Laboratory.More information about the disease can be found on the DAFM website.