One year on

It’s nearly a year since I started this blog, so I thought I would have a look back at the posts I have written. I have to say, the early posts I still find very hard to read. The raw emotion comes flooding back.

So are we in a better place so far as bTB is concerned? Have we made progress in beating this terrible disease? I’d like to say a resounding yes but I can’t. BTB has become even more political with the election only days away, the result will be crucial as to whether common sense can prevail or whether it cannot.

As a beef farmer in the SW the only hope I have as a way forward to eradicate bTB is in the pilots in Glos and Somerset, we are seeing such encouraging results. No surprise too many as all the previous trials have shown reduction in bTB were badgers are culled. The current 25 year plan without culling of badgers will be a burdensome waste of time for all

People who like to use this emotive subject for political gain or with hidden agendas do themselves the country especially the countryside a huge disservice. The people that have visited the farm that don’t share my views but have taken the trouble I thank very much, for those that have declined to visit are in my view cowards……and there are a couple.

Cows & Calves at Pasture


 

cows at grass

 

With all my cattle turned out to grass for the summer it’s great to see them grazing our meadows and banks. I can’t help but worry about our next 6 month check test in the autumn especially when I see increasing evidence of badgers routing up the pasture for earth worms. What biosecurity can I do when the cattle are at pasture? This year we are using raised mineral feeders from Rumenco which are badger proof to try to minimise everything we can. But it’s the pasture the cattle graze and the interaction between cattle and badgers that we can’t stop when there out grazing.

Raised Mineral Feeders from Rumenco


 

 

cattle minerals feeder rumenco

 

I thought I would copy a link to the video we poster this time last year just so no one forgets the misery bTB causes on farms.              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DODojjlxnwY

Does culling badgers reduce bovine TB in cattle?

Does culling badgers reduce bovine TB in cattle?

This question as to whether culling badgers will reduce bTB in cattle is getting rather tired now. If we look at the history of the disease and how we had previously managed to become virtually bTB free, and the various trials including RBCT all show it does work.

Now we have data coming in from both cull areas in Gloucester and Somerset showing a sharp reduction in bTB on farm see document below.

Blowey, Gray, Griffiths, + Rowe, Feb 2015 – Copy

 

So I was dismayed to read No 3 of the Labour party manifesto  3)         Labour will end the ineffective and inhumane badger culls 

It is now becoming clear that this is a political game; it’s not so funny if you’re dealing with bTB on farm with the misery it causes, farmers and farming families. It is surly time for the eradication of bTB in the UK to be depoliticised with an independent body. It is so unfair to say that the pilot culls have been inhuman and ineffective when the data clearly show the opposite, and the care and attention to detail to make sure that they are indeed humane. I was made aware this week of a farm which has just had a new bTB outbreak, 2 in calf heifers close to calving will have 21 day in which to calve if they do not then they will be slaughtered. They may be only days from giving birth, is this fair is this humane? I don’t think so, but it is the policy that all political parties follow, the tightening up on bTB testing and cattle movements that’s in reality what it means.

It’s time for a common sense approach to tackle bTB and in doing so not only will we become bTB free in the UK there will be huge cost savings to the treasury see document below.

Potential Cost savings Associated with the Gloucestershire Cull

Friday the 13th was lucky for me.

 

We had our second clear bTB test last Friday, a huge relief to all of here on the farm. No more testing for 6 months.

It just goes to show that with rigorous testing of cattle we can and do get rid of bTB in the cattle herd. The big problem is currently we are not doing anything to control the source of infection, badgers.

So until we are able to control the source of infection this will sadly be a temporary reprieve for us I hope we stay clear but realistically that will be wishful thinking. I just heard my neighbour has just had 2 reactors after being clear, so the bloody merry-go-round goes on.

 

A young farmer’s bTB story

Towards the end of last year I found out that six farms locally had had new bTB breakdowns. As readers of this blog will know, I am all too familiar with the misery that news causes.

I want to highlight one case in particular – a young farmer I know who has a small herd of 68 pedigree beef longhorns which he is building up.

longhorn cattle grazing

It’s great to see someone with the passion and the dedication necessary to make this type of business work. Not only does he rear and finish his longhorns, he also adds value to his produce by selling it to local restaurants and pubs.

Sadly this young farmer was one of the six new bTB breakdowns that occurred at the end of last year. He lost 11 of his pedigree longhorns, including a senior stock bull, a junior stock bull, and his best foundation cow, Isobel, who was suckling a bull calf with great potential among others.

longhorn cow and calf

It is difficult to describe what a bitter blow this has been for this young man. It is so hard to see cattle leave the farm to be slaughtered for bTB when you’re trying to build a closed pedigree herd and build a business. The emotional wrench really hits you hard.

longhorn bull

What is also sad is that this young man does not want to put his name or the name of his farm to his story because of the fear of intimidation. This is not an unfamiliar situation and is a sad thing to have to say in a free and civilised society – we must have the right to protest legally but we should feel able to speak freely without the fear of intimidation.

It is interesting that during this year’s badger cull the so called animal rights activists said there had not been any intimidation of farmers and residents. The list of incidents released by Gloucestershire Police recently would suggest that wasn’t the case. It was also good to see one of the leading figures in this movement, Jay Tiernan, found in contempt of court for breaching the High Court injunction granted to the NFU to protect farmers and their families from harassment and intimidation and given a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years. I do hope that Gloucestershire Police will take note and take action where it is necessary with this year’s cull.

All of this just strengthens my resolve to make sure we get on top of this dreadful disease. We must have a healthy, living, working countryside which will benefit us all. It’s time to make bTB a thing of the past in our wonderful countryside.

Reflecting on 2014

As 2014 comes to a close and we look forward to 2015, I thought I would reflect on the past year. Having completed 5 whole herd bTB tests this year, we finally had a clear test on the 12th December which has given us all a huge boost.

At the beginning of the year my confidence in politicians sorting out a sensible policy for Btb in the UK was pretty low! However, I very much welcomed the 25 year strategy plans announced but alas, it appears there is going to be picking and choosing by the government. By that I mean more movement restrictions, fines for late testing and more red tape to struggle though. However, the one thing that is showing real progress in massively reducing bTB is the pilot wildlife controls in Gloucestershire and Somerset. There is, as yet, no announcement to roll this part of the strategy out across the South West. I and many other Farmers ask the question ‘ Why not?’ ( Could there be a general election coming up?!! ) While politicians and prime ministers dither , more cattle will be slaughtered, more wildlife will become infected and the disease will spread further in to the low risk areas. The job to stop, control and contain this disease will get bigger and I wonder who’s job it will eventually be to clear up this environmental and political mess ….. you have guessed it!…. the farmers of the UK. If there was ever a case to completely de-politicise the policy for disease control of bTB in the UK this has to be it. I will hold those in decision making positions to change this and to choose not to responsible for any more of my cattle to be slaughtered under this policy.

As for the so called animal rights protesters , badgerists ,single species brigade or as I like to call them “The flat earthers” they seem to have one goal and one goal alone, save every badger regardless of any circumstance. My goal is simple, it’s not to save every living bovine or to kill every living badger no, its to get the UK TB free. To benefit not only farmed animals but wild animals too. To have our beautiful countryside free from this dreadful disease. It is achievable, we have indeed done it before, but while we have this ridiculous protected status on badgers which have no natural predators and that were never an endangered species but do carry bTb and can be super execrators of bTb, it is going to be challenging . Politicians will need backbone, have they got it? We shall see… I won’t be holding my breath.

Back in April we posted the video of Ernie being shot on the Farm as part of the Government’s bTB control policy. The purpose of that was to hopefully engage with non-farming members of the public and give an insight in what it’s like living on beef farm with bTB. I hope we have gone some way to achieve this, the many comments and conversations I have had since would suggest so.

We have now finished autumn calving and Ernie has left us with what will be his last calves and they are like all his previous calves, superb.

I will continue to engage with people from both sides of the bTB argument as I believe it’s important to do so. I would encourage many more farmers to do the same as no one else will do it for us.

I wish one and all a very happy, healthy and prosperous ( and bTB free ) new year!

Cows on roots Christmas day 2014
IMG_20141225_115848

PLAYING THE GAME OF CHANCE AGAIN THIS WEEK (60 DAY Btb test)

We are half way through our latest 60 day bTB test; we will get the results tomorrow after reading the test.
These test weeks are difficult, the waiting and not knowing. I am always optimistic you have to be but in the back of my mind I’m always preparing myself for the worst. Given the level of wildlife infection in Gloucestershire and our testing history it’s prudent to be prepared. Also that there have been 6 NEW heard breakdowns locally in the last couple of weeks.
The South West TB Advisory Service has recently completed a survey of badger activity in my cattle buildings and feed store, I’m very happy to say that NO badgers were caught on the night vision motion cameras. As some of my cows stay out 10 months of the year this makes biosecurity difficult. Some would say it may be better to keep our cattle inside 24/7 I totally disagree with this utter nonsense , cattle were designed to live outside its healthy and it’s good for the environment, so if we keep our cattle inside and do nothing about badgers and bTB you don’t think other species will suffer from bTB ? This would not be a solution just another fudge it’s time to face up to the problem and do something about it. Many people have strong opinions about this whole Btb debate, how many will be Btb testing this week or any other? And how many have had to have animals slaughtered? Not so many. This must be looked at in the round, no cherry picking.
Will post results on Friday.

Badger cull over but cattle cull continues 365 days a year.

While the badger cull may now have finished for this year farmers across the South West, and beyond, are still left to deal with the grim day-to-day reality of bovine TB. Today I’ve had to load up two more of my cows and send them away to be slaughtered because they tested positive for bTB. Losing cattle you’ve bred and reared to this disease never gets any easier .It also leaves us with another orphan calf to rear on its own. From a business point of view, the results of the last test means my herd still has to pass two consecutive TB tests, 60 days apart, before restrictions can be removed and we can start operating anywhere near normally again. The cycle of testing every 60 days means TB is never far from my thoughts, even when I’m doing other thing around the farm.

 

The results of this year’s culls haven’t been released yet. As a farmer dealing with bTB I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of the people who have carried out the culls. Their determination to do the best job they can to help with disease control is hugely appreciated by me and other farmers who want to see this disease wiped out for the good of the wildlife on our farms as well as for our cattle.

 

Like everyone else I wait with interest to see the results of this year’s culls. In the meantime, the countdown is back on to our next TB test and the results that will bring.

Badger cull over but cattle cull continues 365 days a year.

WHY IS THE BADGER CULL NECESSARY TO PROTECT OUR CATTLE, OUR COUNTRYSIDE AND OURSELVES?

1. In the early 1900s, 2,500 people died each year from bovine TB (bTB) and a further 50,000 were infected. This is why a control programme was instigated.

2. Trials of cattle vaccination in the 1950s (involving 6,000 calves over ten years, with a booster dose at six months) failed to remove the disease, so the government introduced a test and cull policy to eradicate the disease in cattle and to reduce the risk to human health.

3. Using the same TB skin test for cattle as we do today, by the mid 1970s – when UK cattle numbers were at an all-time high – the number of cases of bTB had been cut to just 400 a year. Since then, cattle numbers have fallen by 32% but bTB cases in cattle have risen to well over 30,000 a year. This is despite far more intensive controls (such as premovement testing and whole-herd restrictions following inconclusive reactor disclosure).

4. The graph below the relationship between the number of TB reactors in cattle and various badger culling programs. There is clearly a direct link: when badgers were gassed on farms from the late 1970s, we saw the lowest bTB figures ever. From that point on, the clean ring and reactive programs took place and were less effective at removing badgers. Badgers became protected in 1981 but it was not until 1997 that all badger culling ceased. Note the huge increase in bTB cases in the years after this.

DB Graph

5. There is no doubt that bTB has decreased in Wales recently. However, as the current vaccination program is being conducted only in 1% of the country it is difficult to see how this has led to a 25% decrease in bTB overall. Other factors must be at play.

6. There have been no field trials involving the vaccination of badgers. Experimentally, badger vaccination has no effect in animals already infected and, when challenged with infection, all uninfected vaccinated badgers eventually succumb to bTB, although the vaccine does slow down the onset and progression of the disease.

7. On the Killerton Estate in North Devon, where the National Trust has vaccinated badgers over the past four years at an annual cost of £45,000, there have recently been a significant number of herd breakdowns.

8. It is true that Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) (‘Krebs’) concluded that culling badgers in small areas would make ‘no meaningful contribution’ to bTB control. However, a subsequent committee chaired by Professor John King, the Chief Scientist at the time, recalculated the same data and showed that in the four years after the 2000 cull had ended, bTB decreased considerably in culled areas, and it was his opinion that removing the wildlife reservoir would decrease cattle cases by at least 40%.

9. According to the Krebs report, the number of badgers culled in the Gloucester proactive triplet varied from 93 to 219 per annum, despite intensive Defra staffing and training. This is a mean of 165 badgers per annum per 100 sq km. Despite huge protester disruption, Gloscon has done much better than that. In 2013, 914 badgers were culled in 330 sq km, which equates to 277 badgers per 100 sq km. Your contractors have done a superb job.

10. The Krebs report also shows that in the Gloucester area total badger density was 2.61 badgers per sq km or 261 per 100 sq km, so in 2013 when Gloscon removed 277 per sq km it removed more than the total number present at the time of Krebs. Numbers culled in 2014 therefore will be much lower than in 2013.

11. The rates of bTB infection in badgers killed on the road tested during the Krebs trial (2002–05) varied from 19% to 26% infected year on year. Of these, 38% of adult badgers and 55% of cubs showed visible lesions, and 10% of adults and 23% of cubs showed severe lesions.

12. More recent data (2006–09) from the Gloucestershire Badger Vaccine Deployment Project, where blood tests were used to confirm infection in badgers, demonstrated an infection rate varying from 28% to 54% year on year. Therefore, in our opinion the evidence for badgers being a reservoir of infection is incontrovertible.

13. Cheshire is defined by Defra as an ‘edge area’ with a comparatively low incidence of bTB, deemed to be suitable for control by badger vaccination only. However, a recent survey in the county showed that 24% of badgers killed on the road were bTB positive. This means that vaccination will not be effective in at least 24% of the animals vaccinated here.

14. The effect of perturbation was studied during the Krebs trial, where there was evidence of the effect only in a 2 km wide band around the outside of the proactive cull areas. Even in these areas, for four years after the Krebs trial ended the level of bTB in these bands was actually lower than before the trial started.

If anyone would like further information on the subject, please visit the NFU TB Free England website at http://www.tbfreeengland.co.uk.

October 2014

With many thanks to Roger Blowey FRCVS for the above document