FarmECS: EcoEpi's cattle disease modelling framework

We have developed an innovative modelling framework to address the evaluation of national control/surveillance programmes planned in line with the AHL for livestock diseases. Our modelling framework is applied to the cattle sector of Ireland and the German federal state Saxony Anhalt where there is a need for policy support in the context of BoHV-1 eradication and BVD surveillance.

The framework targets a large-scale individual-based model called FarmECS in which each animal is explicitly represented with its biological characteristics and each farm with its management-specific characteristics. A detailed understanding of herd management and herd types is essential for animal disease control and surveillance activities, to inform epidemiological study design and interpretation, and to guide effective policy decision-making under the light of the AHL. Therefore, region-specific herd types are defined in the model, representing the typical management schemes of the cattle sector in the modelled region. A rule-based management system for each of the defined herd types is implemented, which is followed by all herds of the respective type.This management system determines, for example, how long herds of a certain type keep youngstock, at what age they sell them and whether herds maintain themselves through breeding.

In the modelling framework epidemiological processes (infection, reactivation etc.) are modelled independently of the management practices of a herd, which allows to change the pathogen to be modelled. This has made it possible to extract model variants from our general framework that are tailored to specific problems. E.g. an IBR variant of the model (FarmECS-IBR) is currently used to estimate the costs of a national BoHV-1 eradication programme in Ireland. Another variant of the model (FarmECS-BVD) is applied to test the efficacy of various BVD surveillance options. 

The development of the modelling framework builds on a previous collaboration between Ireland and Germany and is highly collaborative with substancial input from the following project partners:

  • Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA), IE
  • Animal Health Ireland (AHI), IE
  • Tierseuchenkasse Sachsen-Anhalt, DE
  • Landesamt für Verbraucherschutz Sachsen-Anhalt, DE