It’s been a month since I last posted a blog as its been a very busy time on the farm with harvest and other things. The harvest is now safely in the barn thank goodness.
As it’s now autumn, I assume the pilot badger culls will start sometime soon. It is so important they continue and that the contractors are allowed to carry out their work unhindered which I believe is done in the most professional way. I visited the cull area in Gloucestershire last year and saw first-hand how professional and well organised the contractors were with the greatest attention to detail employed. It was disappointing and frustrating that they were repeatedly faced with intimidation and harassment from some of the protesters.
The contractors are people employed to carry out a Government policy to help wipe out a disease that is devastating livestock and dairy farmers in the county. Let’s see what the results are after the four years have been completed. There will be no need for mathematical modelling or scientific reports to be pulled apart. I am not afraid of the result, and we must put things in to perspective. – It is estimated up to 5,000 badgers may be culled over the four year period. Let us not forget that last year alone 32,000 cattle were culled for bTB. Let’s fight for the rights of our cattle and our Great British Beef and Dairy industry. Surely we must do everything we can to stop the reinfection of our cattle from wildlife and, in so doing, rid the countryside of this dreadful disease .I believe the right to peaceful protest is very important. Let’s make sure any protests this year are peaceful and lawful.
I think it is important to clarify the issue of the independent expert panel to the General Public. The message getting out there is that the IEP won’t be overseeing the cull this year. This is correct, but lessons learnt from last year will be implemented and DEFRA and Natural England will be overseeing and monitoring the culls. My experience with both DEFRA and Natural England is they are more than capable and will do a very thorough job in a very professional way as you would expect. It is quite frankly ridicules to suggest any different………….
Our next bTB test is not so far away now and we are planning again for the whole herd test. I will need two clear tests before I can have restrictions lifted on my farm and be able to sell and market my store cattle. It has a crippling effect on my business. I saw on TV last week how young farmers are having to cope with bTB breakdowns. It’s so hard for them and it just strengthens my resolve that we must now get this dreadful disease under control without delay
We need an independent body to run the bTB policy in the UK – to work in partnership with farmers and government to move us forward to being bTB free. It is essential now. Doing nothing or keeping the status quo is simply not an option. There is simply too much at stake. We must all work towards a healthy living working countryside.
I wish everyone involved in the cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset well in their courageous and determined fight to help start making England bTB free.
This is the report from South West TB Farm Advisory Service carried out recently. I think it is really important to continuingly look at what we can do on farm to reduce the risk of bTB spreading to cattle
. My hands are tied to control the source of infection in wildlife (Badgers) so all I can do with Biosecurity I must, in the desperate hope that I can continue breeding and finishing cattle at ManorFarm.
I have not included the map from the survey for security reasons. It shows : 5 ACTIVE SETTS 3 INACTIVE SETTS AND 5 LATRINES (OVER 260 ACRES).There are more but because cereals have not been harvested and HLS margins are waste high it is not possible to see all activity.
Many thanks to Sophie James for a first class service from South West TB Farm Advisory Service.
Recommendations for Manor Farm.
1. Biosecurity at Pasture
1.1 – Badger Activity
The survey found a relatively high level of badger activity at Manor Farm, including setts, latrines, runs and rooting – please see survey map attached. There was some level of activity in every area of the farm. Not all activity will have been identified as the farm is in Higher Level Stewardship and extensively grazed, with areas including buffer strips concealing badger activity. This can also make implementing biosecurity at pasture more difficult, in terms of fencing areas of potential infection, including latrines. I would advise remaining vigilant for areas of activity. There was only one area of rooting, this is to be expected with such dry weather.
1.2 – Setts/Latrines
Three of the badger setts (S 1/3, S 0/4, S 0/3 – inactive) were found to encroach on potential grazing grounds. I do not believe that S 1/3 is in regular use but due to the close proximity of the road sett and other activity, I would consider fencing cattle away from this. I would recommend fencing cattle away from the other setts, should they be re-opened and I would advise remaining vigilant for this if grazing these fields. There were a number of latrines identified on the survey but given the number of active setts, there will be more that have not been identified. This is to be expected, as discussed above. Only one latrine was found on grazing ground (L 4/4). I would recommend fencing cattle away from badger latrines if identified in grazing fields, or avoid mowing over if silaging, as they can be potential sources of infection.
1.3 – Feeding
Mineral blocks can be particularly attractive to badgers and are currently fed at pasture, although away from areas of known activity – although as discussed, this is difficult given the level of badger activity on the farm. I would urge you to use mineral lick holders, which should raise the mineral blocks to at least 90 cm from the ground to prevent badger access. There are several mineral lick holders now available to buy, or other farmers have created their own using scrap materials – as previously discussed.
Supplementary feed is occassionally fed at grazing depending on different factors. This is given in raised troughs which should limit the potential for badger access. The only further measure would be to add rollers to the troughs which again, makes access more difficult for the badgers. I would remain vigilant for signs that badgers have been accessing troughs when in use, for example scratch marks and prints. There is a calf creep feeder at pasture, which is rarely used and may not be used in future. The only way to completely secure calf creep feeders in my experience, is to add a lid which can be closed at night to prevent badger access.
There was no evidence of badgers using the limited number of water troughs at Manor Farm. This is unsurprising given the availability of natural water sources. I would still recommend remaining vigilant for scratches or badger footprints on or around water troughs. It is good practice to cleanse and disinfect troughs regularly if using them for cattle.
1.4 – Cattle to cattle
There is no opportunity for nose to nose contact with cattle from neighbouring herds.
2. Biosecurity for Farm Buildings
2.1 Badger Activity
As stated above, there was some level of badger activity in every area of the farm, including close to the different farm buildings. I would advise having cameras to monitor the buildings when cattle are housed and to consider biosecurity measures that could be implemented, as discussed.
Having had one reactor at last week’s TB test we’re now facing a minimum of two further 60-day TB tests and the countdown is on again. The test was the first one we’d had since our six-month check test where we lost three cows and our dear old bull Ernie.
Every TB test is hard work and is incredibly stressful. Getting the cattle in and making sure they all safely go through the crush is very physically demanding work. I had a good team of people working with me on the latest test which made things easier but no matter how smoothly things run you’re still very nervous waiting for the results.
Although we had one reactor I have to be positive and look at the overall result of the test as a good one because I wasn’t sure how many animals I was going to lose. You try to remain optimistic but, having lost up to 30 cattle in a test before, you are never certain. Losing any cow you’ve bred and raised is sad but the test result does mean I can continue with the business in its current form.
Now it’s time to get back to doing the rest of the day-to-day work on the farm as summer rolls on. But the thought of the next test will always be at the back of my mind.
After a very stressful week, the result is not as bad as it could have been we had 1 reactor a young cow 2nd calver 4 years old. A minimum of two further 60 day test required now.
I have to be positive and look at this as a good result because we could have lost 10, 20 or even 30 as we have in the past so 1 reactor sad as it is at least leaves me with a business I can continue with.
I am now even more determined to continue the fight to see a fair and just policy on Btb in the UK with “all the tools in the box” being used.
Without wildlife control we will never beat this terrible disease, I have had an independent farm wildlife survey done this last week and will report its findings as soon as I receive it.
Many thanks for all the kind support I have had especially in the last week much appreciated.
Next week the day I’ve been dreading for the last two months will finally arrive – my next TB test.
I’ve been trying not to think about it too much but, if I’m honest, it’s never been far from my thoughts since the last one, 60 days ago.
The cows are currently all out in the fields, enjoying the sunny weather and the glorious grass. They look great and it lifts my spirits when I see them out there roaming freely. Phoenix, the calf who lost her mother after our last test, has come on in leaps and bounds in the last two months. She’ll be tested next week as well.
On Tuesday I’ll have to round all 160 of the cows up and bring them back into the yard so they can be injected – the first part of the test. Then on Friday I’ll have to bring them all in again so we can find out the results of the test. This will be the crucial day – the day we find out if we’ve had a clear test or if we’re going to lose more cows to TB.
Getting all the animals back in twice in three days is a huge task. They want to be out in the fields at this time of year and I want them to be out there because it means I can focus on other parts of the business. Instead, all my time and effort will be focused on getting them in. Getting them all through the crush so they can be injected takes a lot of time and physical effort. So you can imagine what it’s like having to do it all again three days late to get the test results.
On top of all the physical effort there’s also the stress of not knowing what the test will bring. Will we be clear? If so, it will be a huge relief but we’ll still have to have another clear test in 60 days’ time before we can get back to normal. Will we have more reactors? And, if we do, how many will there be? Another positive test could mean having to face some difficult questions about the future direction of the business.
Breeding cattle has always been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of what I do. But if I keep losing cattle to TB because I can’t stop the disease getting on to my farm then I’ll have to give up that side of the business because it won’t be financially viable to carry on with it.
Obviously I’m hoping that it doesn’t come to that. I’m doing my best to stay positive but the relentless nature of TB makes it increasingly harder as each test approaches.
The feeling of deja-vu is almost overwhelming. We’ve been here so many times before. Fingers crossed next week’s test will give me the result I want rather than the one I fear.
As people who read my blog will know, one of the reasons I started writing it was to restart the debate about the need to tackle bovine TB and generate a discussion about all aspects of controlling the disease, not just culling badgers.
Gloucestershire has found itself at the centre of the debate during the last 18 months or so, for obvious reasons. I know bovine TB is a very emotive issue and that there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate about how it should be tackled. But sometimes I feel that the story of how TB impacts on farmers and their families has been marginalised in the media coverage when it should be one of the central elements of the whole issue.
Last week I posted a letter to every member of Gloucestershire County Council along with a copy of the film the NFU made on my farm following my last TB test. I didn’t do this to be confrontational, or to shock or offend – I did it simply to introduce myself and to give them the opportunity to see what living with TB is like for me and my family.
I hope the councillors will take the time to read my letter and watch the film. I’m happy to answer any questions any of them might have about TB, its impact, and the best way to tackle it in the area where I farm. I’m also happy to show them around my farm and let them see the practical difficulties TB presents – not just regarding the daily running of the farm, but also the impossibility of keeping cattle and badgers completely separate when the cattle are outside.
My next TB test is due to take place on July 15. I’ll find out the results on July 18. I have no idea what the test will bring. And at the moment I’m trying to go about my everyday farming business without thinking about it too much,that’s easier than done
If the test is clear it means we’ll still have to have another clear test in 60 days’ time before the farm can get back to operating normally. If we lose more animals I’ll have to seriously think about whether I can carry on breeding cattle – which is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my farming life.
The cows look great out in the fields in the sunny summer weather. They look fit, healthy and full of life. I don’t want to think about the test yet. But pretty soon I’m going to have to, whether I want to or not.
Two week ago I visited the Royal Three Counties Show, and what I saw was an amazing display of British livestock. I don’t think you would have found better anywhere in the world. That’s quite a statement! But it’s true. We have a livestock industry that is second to none but in true British style we don’t really like to shout about it……to hell with that! How important is our industry? Very. If I take my own farm… amongst other things I produce high quality beef to the highest welfare standards. In doing so I help to preserve the wonderful natural environment they graze. It has been done like this for generations and that gives us pasture that is very species rich. It benefits invertebrates, birds and mammals alike but without cattle grazing my Cotswold limestone banks and valleys, where would all this be? Cattle are such an important part of the environment maybe it’s time for the so called “eco warriors” to recognise this and get off the ONE species band waggon, (BADGERS) All animals on my farm are important, farmed and wild alike but those that carry TB need to be controlled for the good of all animals not least my cattle. If I can no longer farm cattle because of TB and I cannot control the wildlife reservoir, the cattle will have to go. That’s a huge blow for the natural environment on this farm and some really important features will be lost for ever. That would be a travesty. As we prepare for our next bTB test on July the 15th we are getting buildings ready and working the grazing rotation to have the cattle as close to home as possible. It can be a difficult challenge getting sucker cows and their calves to cooperate with coming in for bTB test at this time of year. It is the most stressful time on the farm for me, the family and more importantly the cattle. 60 day testing comes round very quickly. As I look around my cattle every day I see the ever increasing evidence of badgers and badger setts. Knowing that in this area over 50% are infected with bTB it’s difficult to keep a positive mind as test day looms ever closer. I’m hoping for a clear test, desperate for a clear test but it could be a totally devastating test. The inability to be able to control wild animals with Btb is very frustrating and seems to me to be completely at odds with all we do to enhance and protect the environment. All I can hope is that common sense will prevail and difficult decisions will be taken to safe-guard our wildlife, countryside and our very important cattle industry. They are all reliant on each other.
We have an updated version of Bovine TB Past and present-is there hope for the future(6) I hope you will find this useful . Again many thanks to Roger Blowey, FRCVS who has prepared this document.
It is with many thanks to Roger Blowey, FRCVS who has prepared this document.” Bovine TB Past and present-is there hope for the future ” Please take the time to read it through.
Roger has always been a good source of sound advise with many years experience. I welcome your comments.
The count down is on.
We now have a date for our next bTB test. It’s the 15th July. I am really not looking forward to it. It is an unknown. Will I have a clear test? If I don’t, how many reactors? How many more breeding cows /heifers will I loose? I think about it every day especially when I’m checking the cattle. Just now they look so well and so content with huge amounts of spring grass its lovely to be amongst them but the 15th July hangs over all of us.
It has been interesting over the past week or so to have been able to debate the bTB issues first on Radio 4 and also at the Royal Agricultural University Science and Technology debate with non-farmers giving their perceptions and concern’s. It is so important to have a reasoned debate with all sides but this is not always easy with some very extreme views. So much is talked about the “science” and its sometimes conflicting views. I found this piece of information very useful.
It is from the final Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on the RBCT Randomised Badger Culling Trial and concerns on trapping. Trapping was only carried out for an average of 8 days per annum. Of the 15666 traps set 8981 (57%) WERE TAMPERED WITH AND 1827 (12%) WERE STOLEN.
This alone must cast doubt on the trial? The fact that it cost so much money does not mean you get good science. Perhaps we should also look at the previous 5 trials which show big reduction in bTB herd outbreaks after more efficient culling. I don’t think the question should be if culling badgers will reduce bTB in cattle because the evidence is there to show that, but how do we efficiently cull and control the badger population in the areas with the greatest reservoir of bTB in the environment.
I will very soon post some very useful information to help explain this better