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.


307 thoughts on “Trying to express the inexpressible

  1. So sorry for your losses , and thank you for being a good , nice farmer that really cares for the animals. A really nice picture above .

  2. I hate this disease i have been married to a farmer for 14 years and every 60 days he goes through the stress of this. A few years sgo they took the entire herd as so many reacted to the test. It was heartbreaking. They had all just been dried off ready for calving 2 months later and to watch 400 heavily pregnant animals many of whom had nicknames and we had raised from calves was something i will never forget. Both my husband and his boss were crying as were us women and then there was nothing just empty sheds and fields for 2 months while we waited for the farm to become “clear” of tb. During that time 2 more badger sets opened up. The new cows arrived and on the next tb test 10 of them were positive and had to be slaughtered!!!!!! They had been tested clean before arriving. My in laws can’t even have cattle on thier farm now cause they were losing so many and the farmer to them next door won’t graze thier side of the road cause if he does he gets cattle with tb. They have 5 badger sets on 70 acres. Something has to be done because it is ripping the heart out of farming in pembrokeshire.

    • Kelly,
      I agree and sympathise with your plight. The pressure and worry makes it difficult to cope sometimes. With TB all around me, I was relieved to go clear last March and I took the opportunity to retire from dairy farming after 40 years.

      I hope you don’t mind but I have posted your story on Facebook’s. “The Badger Cull – Support our Farmers” page?

      We are trying to get the antis to understand that abandoning concentric culling around herd breakdowns in 1986 has been as big a disaster for badgers as it has been for farmers.

      However, we will never convince vegans and AR nutters who’s agenda is to destroy livestock farming and get meat & milk off everyones’ plates. It is unfortunate that they have been able to frighten politicians into allowing badger TB to spread out from Gloucestershire for the last 30 years.

  3. David I feel so sorry for you and to watch the emotion you feel for your animals is heart warming. You really show the compassion that most of the population don’t see from farmers. Surely it is time that Defra sort out a way to deal with bovine TB in a much more humane way than they are at the minute. Vaccinating both badgers and cows is surely much better for every one?!!

  4. There again the lack of understanding David of those who don’t know how the country side works , all they see is little fluffy animals like foxes but they they don’t see the damage they do, they need controlled,I’m a shooting man and have been all my life, I know how it works best of luck i think you’ll need it

  5. i have a pedigree herd of charolais cows and so far we have been TB free .I can walk into field and put my arms round everyone of them thats how close to them i am .i have no objection for people to vacinate badgers providing it is TB free areas to stop the spread of tb but to vacinate in areas of tb is wrong. in areas of TB where herds have gone down zero tolerance of all posible carriers must happen . now domestic cats now passing tb to humans people have to aware how this disease will spread. it is only a matter of time where a young child will catch TB just by playing in the garden and it might be to late ,badgers go everywhere to find food

  6. Coming from a farming background myself, I have always supported the farming community, and TB is such a big issue that the government keeps screwing up! We are fortunate to be in a position where TB is more of an inconvenience than a threat to our livelihood, but I am ever saddened by these heart-breaking stories. So much for animal rights protesters, what about the rights of the cattle? You and your family are in my thoughts, hoping against hope that this is the last time you will have to go through this, but knowing this is little consolation at a time like this.

      • cows have a purpose after their life, because of TB their life was completely wasted and has no purpose. i’m guessing you have no farming background, else you would have been less obnoxious and slightly more respectful.

      • People like you ,that know nothing about the countryside that are the cause in the first place
        Tom Wilson

      • You obviously do not have a clue about farming and the emotion, time and love that is put into breeding quality stock. Have some respect!!

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    It makes me angry that most people protesting the cull probably have no experience in farming, nor life in the country. They fail to realise that we have been controlling many a species for centuries, and that left unmonitored badgers pose a threat to both cattle and themselves.
    It’s about time this country started looking after the farming community.
    I wish you all the best in your future farming endeavours!

    • Milly. Its interesting to see all the emotion of sorrow and grief here. But its an industry where you rear animals for the slaughter, and humane slaughter is a contradiction in terms. There is nothing humane about opening someone’s throat with a knife. How come this guy cares so much about his bull when he sends all his offspring to be killed. And the farmers cant confine their blood lust to their own industry, they now want to taking it out on animals who have been here far longer than any human or domesticated animal. On top of that people like you say stuff like – ‘the badgers pose a threat to them selfs’ , Like they need culling for their own good? Youre bound to disagree with everything i’ve said so why dont you let me know where exactly im mistaken. Al

  8. im sorry to hear this.. i bet your cows werent even affected with tb…. 9 times out of ten the cow will react to the prick then when the ministry take them away and do the autopsy they find they dont have tb.. i know its a bit to late and i wish i knew this was happening before hand but if it happens again with any other of your cows call this number 07811592181 and we might be able to help you.. thanks

    • The truth. However idiots believe different and as soon as they start to leak money it’s a crisis, no real care for the welfare of the animal they sell just the revenue that they’ve lost

    • David Smith,

      Nobody believes your comment.

      Whilst the test is not 100%, it virtually eradicated TB in 26 years after the War – down to just 80 cases a year which was easily manageable.

      As you would know from your vast experience (of TB testing?), there is a backup check on every farm when finished cattle and culls are checked at slaughter premises.

  9. I was in tears reading this , such a horrendous thing to witness ( I couldn’t bare to watch the video ), I’m so sorry for your loss and hope the future is brighter for you x Joyce

  10. Heartbreaking….. totally heartbreaking! I’m so sorry for your loss.
    Words are never enough but please be strong and start again. Without you and your family and other guys like you, our farming community would disappear.
    Sincerest condolences

  11. Enough said said…Words cannot replace the emotions Mr B, my heartfelt feelings are with you..God Bless the ones you lost and love to you and your family xx

  12. I had to write. Well done for posting the video. It really hits home the distress of being forced to needlessly destroy fine stock. I have shared with all my contacts. So far my fathers small herd has escaped TB but we have had cases close by.

  13. Its Heart Breaking and very stressful watching your hard earned time and money being systematically destroyed every 21 days,,there are people who say that the Badger must be saved and they get big celebrities involved to shout out there case and make Government Listen, This story is very like 100`s of Farmers across the Uk,,i have just said goodbye to another 7 Aberdeen Angus Heifers Because of TB,All with there 1st calf developing inside them ,its a never ending cycle i have to admit i can hardly look them in the eye when they are loaded up onto the Artic lorry with 20 or 30 more of someones hard earned back breaking life,,TB is rife all over somerset and iv been reliably told nigh on 70% of farms and small holdings are on lockdown,,Meaning we cant sell or move cattle around,,this messes not only with our emotions but with our daily income and our livliehoods ,,i have friends who have lost everything ,,whole Herds and more and have cried and sold up to the big money supermarkets and land grabbers,Someone visiting me recently for a stay asked why is so many UKIP supporters around the Somerset area,,? were we afraid of Immigration ? were we Racist ? No i said,,we are sick and tired of being told what to do by people who have absolutely no idea whats its like to be a Farmer in The uk,,And we would welcome some concrete policy or agenda to deal with TB before all our meat is imported from Europe,Did any of you non farmer folk Know that every single High street Super market sell TB meat on there shelves ? Does it say on the fancy packaging that this Prime 28 day matured sirloin came from an Infected Animal ? No it does not and it never will,They dont even have to tell you how it was slaughtered,,Halal meat is sold at every supermarket also,,our Animals are just as important as Badgers and just as looked after and cared for as any Cat Dog or Pet Rabbit,,But it seems that The Green Brigade who tuck into there Sunday Roast have more power and a stronger voice than the very people who provide that well reared sunday joint,,Sasd isn`t it,,,We need action Now,,not next week next month next General election,we need it now while we still have a Farming community we can be proud of,

  14. wow i feel your pain…. so sorry for your loss… ive been brought up in the farming world and i blame the schools for not educating the children,,, we had a few kids come beating from the school a mile away and none knew what a deer looked like or a fox…let alone a badger.. five years ago we had never seen a badger on the place in 30 years it has now changed.. keep up the good work dont give in.. unless people have had to deal with a death of a large loved animal then they dont understand your pain… i lost my horse last year after 15years together.. took 6 months for the flashback and nightmares to calm down… i feel your pain,, shame more people dont.. x

  15. I hope after seeing this sad piece of film that the City Dwellers, Townies and the Ppoloticians who have no idea of the devastation TB causes to farmers and their families that these Badgers need to be eradicated from the face of this Earth.

    • Badgers should be eradicated from earth?!! lol have you heard yourself?? Humans are to blame and Badgers are just our scapegoats!! Perhaps the government should be putting money and resources into a vaccination instead of pointless culls that wont be helpful in the long run.

  16. Let me start by giving our heartfelt sympathy (although for what it’s worth will mean absolutely nothing) to this man (and let me tell you it takes a man to be able write and try to explain what he and his family have had to go through)
    although I have never met this
    man he has my utmost respect
    as a man for trying to put down
    in words what we all feel when
    we lose a loved pet
    I can only wish you and your
    family condolences and best
    wishes for the future I don’t
    know what compensation he
    will get (if anything! !!!) What
    I do know is that you will never
    be able to compensate him or
    his family or even their friends
    for the bond they had with
    these animal’s
    especially the”big lad ” Ernie “that bond is priceless and I replaceable”
    that they have lost

    especially the”big lad”

  17. I know what that gun sounds like. I know about the distress of seeing a cared for, respected animal hoisted up a ramp. Every badger lover should see such an image and know the distress it causes.

  18. 36 years I worked in Livestock Auction Marts, saw 100’s thousands of stock being sold for slaughter but this brought tear to my eyes so God knows what you and your family have being going through, its time more was done to rid the country of badgers and this terrible disease

  19. This farmer has been brave enough to show the outsiders of the farming world how farmers really feel when this happens to their livestock.

    Don’t you even dare to think that just because farmers are rare old sods (that are mostly incapable of showing emotion) that they don’t care for their animals.

  20. Latest PM results from Cheshire show 11 of 30 badgers infected with TB, many farmers that do not buy in cows and have high health herds are still coming down with TB.
    The vaccine for badgers is 60% effective in tb free badgers, but not effective in infected badgers. There is no vaccine for cows. If there was, when we tb test them we would not be able to differentiate between an infected cow or a vaccinated cow as they would all have lumps with the intradermal tb test.Recent research showed a sudden increase in hedgehog numbers in areas where badgers had been culled.
    As a vet there is nothing worse than have a reactor while TB testing. Farmers need to remember that cows get lumps where we inject a long time before they find lesions in the lungsetc, as the body’s immunity forms quicker than lesions forming in the body.
    I think the cull is not selective enough, killing clean badgers can allow dirty badgers to move into that territory. A more effective means would be to identify infected setts and then humanely gas that sett, leaving the clean setts alone.
    If something is not done soon then this disease will become endemic in all wildlife (and pets- where it is already been found, then maybe even in more people. Lets not forget a vet nurse was infected a few years ago).
    It should never have been called bovine tb. Badger tb is a more accurate term now.

    • Dear Mr Vet,

      Regarding the antis’ criticism that although the cull is being carried out in two hotspot areas within the HIGH RISK area the badgers are ALL disease free. A wildlife charity in Somerset has come out saying they haven’t found TB in a couple of badgers they have tested. I presume that is a PM examination for visible lesions and not a blood or tissue test?

      No farmer believes this but we are not demonstrating if culled badgers are TB reactors like we are able to demonstrate cattle reactors.

      I assume there is a reason why culled badgers are not being tested? Obviously looking for visible lesions would not tell us if they were carrying the disease in early stages. Do you have any info on how setts or badgers could be pre tested? If we could show that badgers are infected before culling them, no reasonable minded person would be able to object to the cull.

      • So far, as far as I am aware, no visibe lesions have been found but TB has been cultured. Lesions take longer to develop. Tests are being developed, but TB is such a complicated disease it is not as simple as most infections to develop accurate screening. Lets not forget thst some of these wildlife charities are fanatically pro badger despite strong evidence to support the arguments.

  21. All the best in whatever you decide to do I live in Shropshire I’m not a farmer although live in a rural area near Shrewsbury my son is studying agriculture and estate management and wants to get into farming which is proving to be harder than expected (that’s another topic for discussion another time) he has seen first hand the affect of TB and it is truly devastating I hope you do continue to farm and stick with the beef farming just hope all the kind thoughts will keep you going all the bets


  22. So sorry for u r loss if a vaccination can stop the spread of this disease then it’s well worth it.
    My thoughts are with u and u r family God bless

  23. David, this horrendous for you. If any good can come out of this, then this has to be made more public…..this has to be seen on prime time TV etc etc. can you do that??

  24. People are choosing between wild life or cattle and that, as the source of the subsidies that are given to farmers, is the right of the tax payer.

  25. And they think badgers are more important than cattle,HOW wrong can any be, I think these people should see this video,maybe they will like eating badgers!!

  26. We are experiencing this every 60 days at present. Last time we lost a pedigree Friesian heifer.
    The animals get stressed being gathered and handled so often and don’t like being out of routine
    We have to go through it all again this week – so who knows how many this time? They all seem healthy and happy now that they have been tuned back out onto fresh spring grazing – but that means nothing – they are now in closer contact with badgers and deers – despite our best efforts at promoting health and welfare in our animals we can do nothing about the wildlife – don’t get me wrong I love to see the wild animals when out and about (as I am sure most farmers do) – but the bigger picture needs to be seen!
    Good on you David Barton for having the courage to allow the filming, I understand your feelings completely

  27. Went through the same situation 3 years ago we lost 179 cattle, our thoughts are with you! Something needs to be done!

  28. Why is it that anybody with an alternative view to that of farmers is called a townie? Not everyone in the countryside agrees with the way it is used and abused. I’m not a townie, my grandfather was master of foxhounds, raised cattle and was a butcher. My father is a farmer and shoots. My family have farmed the area where I live for over two hundred years.
    I don’t understand how you feel such pain for the loss of these animals but not for the many others that die in the stressful situation of the slaughterhouse. Removed from the familiarity of the farms they have lived on. If you visit a slaughterhouse, the fear is palpable. There is no difference between the pain of a badger and that of a cow or any other animal. Farmers cause a great deal of pain to animals in the pursuit of meat production. Lambs have their tails ringed and their genitals. I have been told that this isn’t painful for them which is a ridiculous notion. Put one of those rings round your finger and leave it for an hour then tell me it doesn’t hurt. If it isn’t painful then why isn’t it used on puppies and other animals. Why has tail docking been banned in dogs and horses but every year millions of lambs are mutilated. I feel compassion for the animals but find it difficult to feel it for the people that abuse them for money.

  29. Well done for posting this – as a “converted townie” I think it’s really important that more farmers have the will/strength to post blogs about these distressing times, so that we understand the real impact of TB on the rural community, rather than being blinded by the rhetoric of political rubbish that;s built around the “nice fluffy fox” image. LONG LIVE FARMING, and sorry you have to go through the cull of your stock.

  30. As a ‘townie’ I had no idea the extent of this problem.
    I was in different about the badger cull but after reading this blog and watching the video I will be sure to re post and try to educate others on the horrific affects this is having on our farmers.
    I am extremely sorry for your loss.


  31. I witnessed this on a farm I was installing solar panels on and it was horrific. 4 of them were penned in and shot right in front of each other, they all knew what was going on, the last one even bowed it’s head for the marksman but the bullet did not kill it

  32. Beatifully written, brought tears to my eyes.

    Thank you for sharing, and allowing other to catch perhaps a glimpse of your pain

  33. We are farmers in Devon and it’s just the same feelings when our herd went down 2 take away and the mother of one went to look for her calf and broke her leg so loss 3 that time all you can do is hold on in there and hope someone sort this out!

  34. Well written. I am so sorry for your loss. This shows the heartbreak that the farming community has to go through due to the spread of TB. It’s nice to see a farmer who cares and looks after his animals so well.

  35. As much as I feel sorry, what the difference? Farmers palm these poor animals off to slaughter houses every day but hide somewhat and ignore the pain they then allow, I don’t feel pitty for this farmer, this cow has been spared a life of constant calving ( being a bull earnie earns him money) or being moved for slaughter. Bovine disease is horrible I agree but do I feel as sorry for this farmer no.

  36. We lost a young cow with a very young calf at foot in the same way. Her calf was spared and has reached adulthood without incident, fortunately. The cow was declared ‘negative’ on PM. Soul destroying, she was one of a 16 generation closed herd, a quiet, kind, friendly soul, it broke our hearts.
    I almost fear typing it, but we have been clear since, I hope and pray it is the same for you and thank you for being strong enough to post this.


  38. I’m a townie. But I’m not an ignorant one who is out of touch with the realities of farming or the countryside. One of the things that irritates me about this debate is the number of people (townies mostly I admit) that think that all the badgers culled are healthy. That somehow they will escape dying a terrible painful death if only they are left alone. They seem not to have realised that the badgers are sick too and if they’re not now then they will be if nothing is done. It is probably impractical, given the numbers, to identify infected sets, so reducing the scale of the overall problem has to be the first move. Once it is of manageable size maybe a more targeted approach will be possible. I doubt there are many farmers who would want to see the complete eradication of badgers from our countryside but TB must be stopped.

  39. Dear David.
    I found a link to your blog on Facebook.
    Firstly I,d like to offer my heart felt sympathy for the loss of Ernie and the girls.
    Some of the replies make reference to slaughter houses and try to make out that its the same thing having them slaughtered on the farm and sending them to the slaughter house this is nothing but ignorance in my opinion.
    I am a farmers daughter I was raised to respect farm animals and wild life alike.
    At the beginning of this year I started my own farm all be it small scale at the moment I hope to increase in size over the coming years. It is a massive financial risk. But it is a passion of mine and farming is in the blood.
    Even the loss of a small new born lamb has a massive financial burden.
    I spend everyday of the week working from early morning till late at night and always on call throughout the night.
    Working closely with the animals I have they become a second family. Each and every one has a name.
    Farming is the process of rearing animals to provide food for people.
    Milk, cheese, butter, meat to name but a few products of farming.
    When diseases like TB infect our cows the animal is killed it has no use it cannot be eaten or used for anything.
    Its time that the government and decision makers listened to the farmers who throughout the generations have knowledge second to none.
    By killing infected cattle you are not stopping the disease.
    To stop the infection you must kill it at source. If the badgers which are infected with TB were culled it would prevent healthy badgers from contracting it. Thus preventing the spread to cattle and other numerous animals and essentially people.
    Its simple but the reality is the people who make decisions do not understand they have no comprehension of what it takes to provide even one glass of milk.
    And allowing infected wildlife to increase in population is pathetic.
    If TB was a visual disease where the badgers were suffering loss of hair and limbs would they still want to say aww they are cute.
    Answer NO.
    The general public would have a massive out cry and something would have to be done. Especially if a young child was infected.
    But because the general public can not see what is happening its ok. IS IT??????
    Without British farmers this country could not survive we already have a shortage of up and coming farmers and i believe the average age of a British farmer is 60 years plus. How can we survive when all the odds are stacked against us.
    Its time to make a stand to make people aware of what is happening and to insist on doing something positive to rid this country of TB.
    It has to be stopped at source.
    You have obviously found the strength to speak up and try to make a change i respect the courage it has taken to show people the effect this has had on you.
    I was involved with the foot and mouth cull which to many of the general public is a distant memory but to farmers it is a constant fear.
    I witnessed the devastation foot and mouth caused.
    It was heart breaking to see grown men crying as their lifes work was destroyed. TB is having the same effect but its not headline news. WHY?????
    Farmers have to speak out we have to protect the farming future.
    I hope that i can achieve my goal and run a sucessful farm which can be handed down through generations.
    Lets hope that Ernie,s loss and millions like him are not in vain.
    I wish you the best of luck for the future.
    And if i can help in anyway please let me know.
    Finally i would like to apologize if what i have written is not politically correct or if mistakes were made in grammar, spelling or punctuation.
    However i think the reason behind writing this is far more important.
    Best wishes.

  40. I’m so sorry to have to see this happening to you and your family Mr Barton. We have a suckler herd and unfortunately over the past two years have lost cows, calves, in-calf heifers and our big lad who was also called Ernie, our gentle giant, to this political disease – TB. We have another bull now, nice chap but no one can replace the years of breeding and the bonds you make with your herd. I can only hope that one day someone with common sense listens to farmers/country folk who understand wildlife and how to best deal with this disease. We are TB free today but the question is for how long? Take care from Heidi, Dorset

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