The count down is on.

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

cows in pasture bolg

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Radio 4 ‘On Your Farm’ comes to our Farm!

New Latrine

New Badger Latrine ( right fore-ground) in grazing pasture

Today Charlotte Smith and Anna Jones from radio 4 ‘ On Your Farm’ came to our Farm to discuss my reasons for doing the Blog and video and the human side of the effects of  bTB.

It was a great opportunity to discuss the issues I face regarding the ever increasing numbers of badgers on the farm, the difficulties of bio-security and keeping grazing cattle and badgers apart. We walked around the Farm and I was able to show them 2 new setts and most disturbingly a new badger latrine in the field where my  young heifers are grazing.

I then met Gordon McGlone, formally of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and he was invited to view the video. We had a frank but fair conversation. We had obvious differences but shared some common ground.

The radio programme ‘ On My Farm’ and this interview can be heard this Sunday morning at 6.35am ( ! )

Phoenix Rises from the Ashes

I would like to introduce you to Phoenix.

Phoenix

Phoenix

She’s a lovely British Blue cross, heifer calf. She was made an orphan last Tuesday, losing both her mother and her father, Ernie, because of bovine TB. We decided to call her Phoenix for fairly obvious reasons. 

We had a very difficult three or four days with her as she was missing her mother and I didn’t want to share that with you. We’ve had enough sadness recently. But I’m now very happy to say that she has quietened down and settled and will take a (large!) bottle of milk twice a day from us, as well as eating some calf food, soft hay and drinking water. 

Hopefully Phoenix will grow into a wonderful healthy heifer who will become a valued member of our herd for years to come. 

More immediately, we’re now on countdown until our next TB test in July and what news that will bring.

Trying to express the inexpressible

Three days ago a slaughterman came to my farm to shoot Ernie, our stock bull, and three other cattle that had tested positive for bovine TB.

They had to be killed on farm because they’d been given worming medication which meant they couldn’t be taken to a slaughterhouse. I invited the NFU to come down and film what was one of the most distressing experiences of my farming life.

That night I started trying to put my thoughts into words for a blog post. This is as far as I got.

I woke up with a feeling of dread in my stomach again….

I don’t have facilities for slaughtering my own animals on the farm so an unbearable time was spent waiting for the first – a beautiful young heifer – to get into the correct position.

I can’t watch….the BANG, when it finally comes, is piercing and final. The other cows know exactly what has happened and what is about to happen.

What follows next is the undignified winching of the carcass up the ramp of the trailer leaving a trail of blood and shit in its wake.

Next is Hugo. With her huge doe-like eyes she looks at me and knows. The cow with the baby calf is becoming fractious and aggressive. She can smell blood and cordite. As she is becoming so wild, she is shot with a single bullet from a rifle. A perfect shot finally breaking the tension.

I feel sick to the bottom of my stomach and I can hardly make my legs take me to Ernie. The gentle giant. Loved by all. He trusts me and I know I am about to betray that trust. I put his barley down for his usual feed. But this is not usual. The marksman steps up and the bang echoes out. The finality is over-bearing. I have to leave.

Ernie the Bull with Tess , our daughters horse

Ernie the Bull with Tess , my daughter’s horse

The only consolation (as we always have to find a positive?) is the instant finality of it all. My animals are always well cared for and a quick and respectful death is what I ask for.

 

I am comforted by numerous messages from friends who loved Ernie. One dear friend even bought us an apple tree to plant in his memory. And my daughter sent a picture of Ernie and Tess, her horse, sharing some hay a couple of winters ago.

Looking back at what I wrote a couple of days earlier, I realise it’s a disjointed stream of thoughts and emotions. I find it difficult to read over again as I was in this position two years ago and, at that time, there was a solution on the horizon.

Preparing for a terrible week

One of my reasons for starting this blog was because this week I will have to watch as Ernie, our breeding bull, and three other animals are shot on farm because they tested positive for bovine TB. It will be one of the worst days of my farming life. And because this issue is so important to me I’ll be using this blog to share the experience with you.

 

Let me start at the beginning. Ten days ago my entire herd underwent a TB test. It was a six-month check test. In the days leading up to it I was nervous but I was hoping for a clear test.

 

During a TB test all the cattle have to be injected and then, three days later, they all have to be checked to see if they’ve reacted to the injection. This is a hugely stressful time for the animals as they each have to be individually restrained to be injected and then again to be checked three days later.

 

It’s also a hugely stressful time for us as a family as we wait for the results. It’s difficult to describe how you feel and how one positive test changes your mood from hope and expectation to despair.

 

When you’ve got experience with TB you know the signs to look for and, even though I tried not to, the day before the Defra tester came to read the results of the test I was looking at the cattle and my heart sank. I saw a lump on the neck of one of the heifers – the tell-tale sign of a positive reaction to the TB test – which meant the test wouldn’t be clear. And when the tester came she found a cow and another heifer that had tested positive. I felt sick.

 

But then came the most upsetting news – a positive test on Ernie. Ernie is nearly 11 and we’ve had him on the farm for nine years. He’s become like part of the family, almost like a pet. He’s remarkable and looks magnificent for an old boy. He was the last animal to be tested and it hadn’t even crossed my mind that he might be a reactor. So to be told that news was soul destroying.

 

Ernie’s in a paddock by the farmhouse. I can see him from our kitchen window. On Saturday all our remaining stock were turned out to grass. It’s a great feeling to see them gallop down the field with a huge sense of freedom and no more feeding or bedding down for me. I awoke on Sunday morning to a familiar sound – Ernie roaring. He’d seen some of the heifers that had been turned out the previous day and he was letting them know he’s number one!!

 

The upshot of the TB test results is that we’re now back on 60-day TB testing. This means the entire herd has to be TB tested every 60 days and has to pass two consecutive tests before we can start operating normally again. The clock is already ticking to our next test in mid July and what results it will bring. Will we lose no animals, one animal, or 30? I don’t know and no matter how hard you try to put it out of your mind the fear and uncertainty is always there. If any cattle react positively at the next test – even if it’s just one – we face at least another four months before we can get back to anything like normal.

 

But today my mind is focused on the immediate future and preparing for what’s going to happen this week. Normally the animals would be loaded on to a lorry and taken away, which is distressing enough. But this time they will have to be shot on farm because they’d been given worming medication which means they can’t be taken to a slaughterhouse. Over the past few days I’ve been having conversations with contractors about what’s going to happen. They make it all seem so normal and matter-of-fact. But it isn’t. They’re talking to me about how they’re going to put down our beloved bull and it’s hugely upsetting. As I look at Ernie in the paddock and think about what’s going to happen this week I’m filled with feelings of sadness, anger and frustration. It’s such an injustice.

The reason I’m doing this

Me with my arm round my breeding bull, Ernie

Me with my arm round my breeding bull, Ernie

I’ve never done anything like this before so you’ll have to bear with me. My name is David Barton and I’m a beef farmer based in the picturesque Cotswolds in Gloucestershire. The farm has been in my family for five generations and it’s a real family business. I love the life farming affords me – I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country surrounded by amazing scenery – and can’t think of a better way of life.

We currently have around 160 head of stock which are bred and reared for beef production. They graze in the fields around the farm and, even if I do say so myself, they are amazing and beautiful creatures.

I’ve decided to start writing this blog to share my experiences of dealing with the realities of bovine TB as a working livestock farmer. My motivation is to share my thoughts and feelings about the impact of this disease on farmers like me and to show the pressures and problems it causes on working farms. I’m committed to doing the best job with this that I can so I’ve had some help from someone who knows about these things to set the site up for me. But the words are my own. Some of the things I talk about won’t be pretty and some will make for uncomfortable reading (and uncomfortable writing) but everything will show the reality of what living with TB is like from my perspective.