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.


5 thoughts on “Preparing for a terrible week

  1. Thank you for explaining the impact of this terrible disease on your family and business so that others may understand, but I’m so dreadfully sorry that you are effected by it.

  2. Hi David

    I know just how you feel, sadly we find ourselves in a similar situation. The only real difference is we are organic dairy farmers.
    Most of our cattle are home bred, they are regularly tested every 12 months. We seem to get an ‘inconclusive reactor’ every 3-4 years, which puts us into the cycle of testing & re testing for months.
    What is the point I keep asking myself. If the government were really worried about human health they would surely have the guts to get to grips with the whole picture. As we both know this problem is unsolvable until they do.
    The cost to farmers in both cash & stress is immense. (& pointless)!

    Best of luck with your next test.

    Regards Steve Vining

  3. David,

    I really feel for you and for your loss. Whilst I was still farming (40 Traditional Herefords) annual TB testing was always an incredibly stressful time for me. We were lucky in that we only ever tested clear, but TB was creeping ever further eastwards and closer to us (Isle of Purbeck, Dorset).

    I know what it is like to lose a favourite animal like Ernie. For some reason, many working bulls seem to become cuddlier with age and handling – they really are like a dog in that they offer us that indefinable companionship of just being there and somehow uncritical of us. It is always a terrible moment when you have to make the decision to put them down or send them on. It is even worse when you have to help those who have come to do the deed, by bringing the animals in to the yard for the last time.

    So I have little comfort for you except to say that farming is the most basic and critical occupation of all – because it feeds us. So stay with it. One day, common-sense will prevail and we will be able to control this most preventable of diseases.

    Best wishes,


  4. Thoughts are with you David, and your family. Agree with everybody else that unless the government gets it’s arse in to gear and helps this will continue. Unfortunately again most don’t understand what it’s like to farm and the impact the likes of TB brings to farms. It’s easy for us to say but keep going and doing the fantastic and essential jobs you guys do.

  5. Removed from the land now, but I remember the look on a Grand Uncle’s face when he explained why the home paddock was slightly sunken in the middle; they had bulldozed the entire herd in to a pit after foot and mouth.

    Keep telling the story. It’s important that the impact of BTb is understood.

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