Vet News – Badgers, Cushings & Low Carbon Farming

Vet NewsAnother month has passed and with the stressful task of finalising personal statements for the October 15th UCAS deadline for veterinary courses, our editors would have been forgiven for not finding the time in their hectic schedules to bring you their articles. However, it is testament to how committed they are that they pulled all the stops and so here, again, we have an installment of interesting vetty content for you exercise the grey matter on.


Pilot badger culls to go ahead

Emma Plowright (Vet News Farm Editor)

Badger, TBIt was recently announced that the Badger Trust has lost its appeal against DEFRA, meaning that the proposed culls will go ahead.

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease which affects cattle. Official estimates suggest that an outbreak of TB on a farm may cost the farmer £12,000 and the tax payer £22,000.

Lord Krebs, who carried out the research upon which the decision was based, has described the culls as ‘crazy’.  Krebs’ work suggested that the spread of TB could be slowed over a nine-year period if 70% of the badgers in an area were eradicated. He believes that if the numbers were less than this however, this would no longer be true. In fact, the disturbance to the badger population could lead to increased spread of the disease. He has stated that, without knowing badger population numbers, there can be no way of knowing if 70% have been eradicated.  The cull has also been opposed by many animal rights groups.

DEFRA says that it will use previous studies and will be carrying out its own research in order to estimate badger populations. It expects that, if the culls are successful, a 16% decrease in Tb incidence may be seen in the target areas over the next nine years. Farmers in the worst affected areas have said that, for them, this reduction would be significant. In other areas of England, the reduction may be around 5%. The culling will be funded by farmers themselves although it is expected that other costs will be involved, for example police time spent controlling protests. A DEFRA spokesperson also stated that ‘no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife too.’

Culling will be carried out by trained individuals in specific areas and will be closely controlled. A number of criteria must be met before a license is granted. For a 6 week period, the culls will be independently monitored and if it is decided that they are effective and humane, the culling will continue for a further four years.

A badger vaccination program is currently in place in Wales. Many groups are calling for a similar strategy to be put in place in England as an alternative to culling.



Lambs to reduce carbon footprints!

Hannah Johnstone (Vet News Farm Editor)

Planet Eart, Global WarmingAcross the UK the agricultural world has been set a target to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 11% (3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year) by the year of 2020. Low carbon farming can save money and increase income by responding to the needs of consumers. One sector needing to reduce carbon emissions is the sheep sector.

For most sheep farmers their goal is to produce more food to feed the ever growing population. Now they have an added extra to increase lamb production as well as reducing their emissions, they must improve their efficiency but at the same time ensure an increasing profit. The farmers are advised on how to reduce their carbon footprints by the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan with the help of EBLEX and DEFRA.

One example of a farmer trying to achieve this goal is Northumberland sheep farmer Duncan Nelless. His farm has 1,500 ewes, the farms carbon footprint is 8.3kg carbon dioxide per kg of lambs. Duncan’s farm’s carbon footprint is one of lowest when compared to the high of 15.3kg carbon dioxide per kg of lambs within the UK. The farms fast-finishing lambs mean they are able to create an efficient environment; lower the farms food cost and take advantage of early sheep markets.

Duncan Nelless’s farm-Thistleyhough has achieved a low carbon score by measuring their flock’s performance; they do this by the use of EIDs (electronic identification tag) to select their most efficient sheep.  In doing this they have been able to improve the finishing growth rate by more than 20%. Another key thing they have done is managing grazing of livestock; they use a 10 year rotation system, they believe their effective grassland management is proving to maximise the farm’s efficiency as it is acting as a carbon sink.

There are certain characteristics of a low carbon sheep unit some being that the ideal finishing weight is achieved as quickly and as early as possible, that the sheep are fed a high quality ration with high Metabolisable Energy density and also that reliance on purchase inputs is reduced where possible.

Low carbon farming is an aim for 2020; farming plays a huge part in greenhouse gas emission with a continuous growth of demand for products. Efficient and sustainable farming is going to be difficult to accomplish in order to meet the goals of the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.




Equine Cushings Disease

Pippa Lyon (Vet News Equine Editor)

Equine Cushing’s disease or Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction is the most common endocrine disorder in older horses. Because horses are now living longer Cushing’s is becoming more and more prevalent in horses today, with more that 15% of horses and ponies above 15 years being affected.

The disease occurs when an imbalance occurs in the hormones secreted from the pituitary gland which leads to an imbalance of other hormones in the body. These hormonal changes show as the clinical signs for the disease.

Although any breed of horse may develop Cushing’s disease, it is very common in horses that have reoccurring laminitis. I recent study shows that 80% of horses with laminitis may have Cushing’s disease.

The second most common symptom is Hirsutism, where the horse can grow a thick curly coat that does not completely shed in the summer.  The picture to the left shows an extreme case.

Other symptoms may include sweating, increased appetite and loss of condition. In some cases you can get abnormal fat distribution above they eye where normal horses would have a depression.

A blood test must be taken to diagnose Cushing’s disease which involves taking initial bloods, then injecting a steroid which will raise cortisol levels.  The next day, a second blood test is taken and if cortisol levels are still elevated, the horse is diagnosed with Cushing’s.

Unfortunately as of yet, there is no cure for Cushing’s disease, so treatment is based on controlling the symptoms although there is now medicine available to help normalise hormone secretion.


Donaldson et al. “Evaluation of suspected pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction in horses with laminitis”. JAVMA, Vol 224, No. 7, 1 April 2004

McGowan. “Diagnostic and Management Protocols for Equine Cushings Syndrome” In Practice, November/December 2003

Triathlon Trials & Tribulations

tired Chris 'Nerdy Vet' at finish of the London TriathlonThere is something about us humans, and especially those of us who are vets and wish to become vets, that is just that little bit crazy. That little core of determination and refusal to bow to pressure that means we can dig in and see something through to its conclusion even when the odds seem stacked against us and more ‘sane’ members of the species would accept defeat and opt for an easier way. How many of you that are currently contemplating applying to vet school or who are in the process of doing so have had people tell you that its “too hard” or that you should consider “something else” because the likelihood of success seems so remote? I daresay a few of you.

I was reminded of what it was like to have to grit my teeth and really dig in for the long, hard slog the other weekend during the London Triathlon. I have been competing as a triathlete now for about three years, with my first taste of competing at an Olympic distance being last year in Paris, France. This year I was fortunate enough to secure a place in the London event and was very much looking forward to lining up at the start line, in spite of perhaps not being at the pinnacle of my tri-race fitness. The event was amazing: huge in scale and buzzing from the moment the first competitors splashed into the dock on Saturday. I was in the penultimate wave of the entire event, on Sunday afternoon, and looked on with the sense of glum inevitability that comes with watching the British weather do its usual of promising so much and then delivering so much of the wrong thing. By the time we were limbering up and awaiting the start of our wave, the weather had well and truly closed in and a pleasantly warm, bright Autumn day had turned into a bleak Winter’s one. Still, the race must go on!

The first clue to what was in store came when it was announced that our wave’s swim was to be reduced from 1.5km to the sprint distance of 750m, due to the presence of “white horses” on the water. Any initial sense of macho indignation at being “demoted” to a shorter race distance was quickly replaced with a sense of huge gratitude and thoughts of “thank God!” as the waves that had developed in the dock (waves in a sheltered dock in London!!) turned my swim into a simulated drowning exercise. Now, I consider myself to be a relatively strong swimmer but I hated the swim that day as I not only ended up swallowing half of the rather grim looking water in the dock, nearly chucking up on more than one occasion, but resembled more of a doggy-paddling poodle than an athletic merman of a triathlete as I struggled through the water. Not a good look!

Next up was the bike stage: 40km, or two laps, past Canary Wharf and Docklands and into the heart of the City, with a turn at London Bridge. If I were to tell you that the wind was so strong that competitors were literally being blown off their bikes you would think I was joking. Well I am not. I saw several dejected souls pushing bikes back towards the ExCel centre as the rain and wind continued to batter us left, right and centre. By the time I made it towards lap two I had pretty much lost most of the feeling in my hands and was thrilled to be told by one of the stewards that they had heard the bike leg had been reduced to one lap. Alas, any hope of such fortune was short-lived as a second marshal confirmed that I did indeed have another lap to complete, and so back out into the unrelenting elements I headed.

As I powered my bike up the final ramp into the centre, thoughts turned to the fact that there was still the run to complete: 10km of it to be precise. The London Triathlon run comprises four laps of a circuit that takes you out of the Excel centre and down along the dock before looping back. The rain had been so heavy during the day that one section of the otherwise normally dry and level course had been turned into a water feature, more akin to something athletes would face in the steeplechase. By the third or fourth time though it became almost funny, with efforts made to come up with the most novel way of pretending to swim, or canoe over it providing some light relief. It has to be said that in spite of the lousy conditions, the level of support from the mental few supporters who remained outside to shout the competitors on was incredible. I think they may metaphorically have dragged several of the runners up that last hill and into the home stretch, so big up to them. The run is normally my strongest event but my legs felt pretty darn heavy by the third lap. Still, thoughts of the finish spurred me on and the sight of the line was beyond sweet. A monster race completed and a big two finger salute to the elements delivered. Would I do it again? If you asked me at the time I would likely have told you to get lost but as always happens with these things, I would gladly sign up again now.

The lesson that I guess I took away from the day was that in spite of being as prepared as I could be, in terms of having all of my equipment organised and being in the right places at the right times, occasionally circumstances beyond your control pitch up and change things, not always for the better. The choice at such times then is to either throw your hands up and accept defeat or to stick to the plan and just pull a performance out of the bag, relying both on your preparation and that little spark of something that seems to make itself available at such challenging moments. So, if you feel that the path to Vet School is proving impossibly tough in spite of your best efforts, remember to keep your eye on the prize at the end, dig in, grit your teeth and keep giving it all you have. You might still not make it but at least you can hold your head up at the end and say you gave it everything you had in spite of it all.

Good luck with everything.

Elephant Hills – Vet School experience

Jess Quinlan is currently studying veterinary science at Nottingham University and has also contributed, along with her dad, to previous editions of my book, Vet School. Jess recently spent some time out in Thailand working with elephants at the Elephant Hills centre, and here she offers her insight into this amazing experience.


elephant spraying water“We had been planning to undertake our 4 weeks of optional Animal Husbandry work experience at Elephant Hills, Thailand so a bit of a break from the norm. We had been really excited for ages about going but were also really worried. Our second year exams had been incredibly tough and even though we had worked as hard as we possibly could; we were still worried about the possibility of having re-sits in August.

9th July came and our results were due out at 10am. We were both terrified, not just for our own results but also for each other. I logged onto the university portal and although I couldn’t quite believe it at first, I had passed! Within two minutes I found out that Grace had also passed and that was it, we were going to Thailand!

We had only given ourselves two days to pack and get ready but before we knew it, we were on the plane and on our way into the middle of the jungle! When we arrived in Phuket, the transfer van picked us up and after five hours of travelling through extensive jungle, we had finally arrived!

Our first impression was stunned. We looked out over the restaurant to be faced with a vast expanse of trees and mountains, it was absolutely gorgeous! They gave us the day to settle in so we went to our tent and used the pool. In the evening, we were able to join the tourists. We watched the children from the local schools who showed us their traditional Thai dancing; followed by a cooking demonstration and dinner. Traditional Thai food for all (with a few chips for the kids)!

The next day we started the real work. We had to be up by 6…incredibly early even for an ex-lamber but the ten minute truck journey allowed us a chance to wake up a little! We arrived into the elephant camp a little stunned and with no idea what we were supposed to be doing. We soon discovered that in addition to this, nobody could speak English and so unsure as to what to do with ourselves, we picked up a broom from the corner and went to help some of the mahouts clean the area around their elephants, their condo.

After a few days, we had managed to develop a routine and also learn lots of words in Karen, the local language spoken by the mahouts and used only by members of the Karen hill tribe. We would help to clean the elephants’ condos in the morning and then we would walk the baby elephant through the jungle. This is probably one of the best things I have ever done in my life and definitely what I looked forward to every day. When we got back to the camp, we would chop up and prepare fruit for the tourists to feed to the elephants in the afternoon. Every two or three days, we would measure baby Haha in order for the managers of Elephant Hills to keep an eye on her weight progress. This was another favoured activity because this baby elephant loved to play! As soon as we got into the pen with her, she would chase us around and try to knock us over. When the tape measure was out she would grab it with her trunk, step on it or just take it off us all together. We had to measure her feet, heart girth, flank girth, elbow height and overall height. These measurements would be placed into a computer programme to give us an estimation of her weight, very important for tracking the health of a baby elephant. In the afternoon we would help the tourists who would come to the camp to feed and wash the elephants.

On our last day they also took us to the Elephant Hospital which is the only one that is present in the south of Thailand. It was there that we realised just how well looked after our elephants were. It was also really interesting to see some of the operations they were doing such as wound cleaning, as well as the elephant version of a cattle crush…it is huge!

We spent four weeks with the elephants and their mahouts and I can honestly say it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We became really close with all of them and as we left, the head of the mahouts told us we’d been like their little sisters in their big jungle family.

After we had finished at Elephant Hills, we spent three weeks travelling around Thailand. It was amazing and I’m so glad I was able to travel and have fun whilst incorporating work from the Vet School at the same time. It is one of the reasons that I wanted to become a vet; to see and be able to get so close to so many amazing creatures and I would definitely recommend it to anybody who wanted to do something a little different for their Animal Husbandry EMS.”


For more information, please follow this link showing the newsletter the managers of Elephant Hills created about our visit.