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

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.

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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

 

Test reading, very disappointing

Cattle coming in for testing
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Friday October 10th another early start, the cows and calves much more reluctant to come in to the yards for testing, however we managed to entice them with some nice silage.
The vet arrives and within 5 minutes he has found a reactor, a home bread 2nd calver with her fresh autumn borne calf at foot, optimism disappeared immediately replaced by despair then 2 inconclusive reactors followed by another reactor . The mood is tense and we continue with the test, a relief when my favourite cow passes ok and our young stock bull Dude also.
As our spring calving cows come though the crush for testing we also PD (pregnancy diagnose) them , that at least is good news all but 2 in calf and the vet tells me we have a very tight calving pattern which is good. This comes about by being efficient and a close attention to detail, sadly and most disappointingly bTB has ripped all that good work apart again. Loosing breading cows that are in calf or suckling young calves is morally emotionally and financially taking its toll on all of us here.
We must put a stop to this terrible disease, that’s why it’s so important for the pilot culls to continue and have further roll out where the disease is endemic, not just for our cattle but the countryside and wildlife which live in it, I have huge respect and admiration for the farmers and contractors in Glos and Somerset where the cull is taking place, it’s difficult but vital work that has to be done.
We will be bTB testing again before Christmas and after, and who knows when we are clear again.

IMG_20141010_145126

One of the condemned

Roulette wheel is spinning

Tuesday 7th OCT, 5.45 AM start strong coffee and paracetamol, one hell of a headache .bTB testing again. My biggest worry right now is making sure I can get all my cattle collected and penned ready for the vet , not to test all cattle would void the test altogether .
I am happy to say all the cattle came in quietly with out to much fuss .With a new crush and handling system I was somewhat anxious as to how it would work , it worked well , better animal welfare and personnel welfare. First part of the test completed by lunchtime. No sooner had we finished testing we had a heifer calve all well, but this is not a good time to be testing with now 17 fresh calves around. I would not choose to test while we are calving but with 60 day testing we have no choice
We now wait for results on Friday , it’s like playing roulette we have no idea of the outcome seems as if it’s just down to chance, it’s always a very tense 3 days

60 Day Btb Test is here Again

We have spent the last two days getting cattle back to the farm for testing again, and preparing for tomorrow 7th Oct.
I can’t tell you how this effects the whole family such a stressful time, and we will be doing it all again before Christmas. The difference between having a clear test on Friday or more reactors is so profound to the wellbeing of the herd and our business.
It’s so easy for people who don’t have to test cattle to say “more testing more stringent cattle measures” etc. . I do see the need to do all this and am happy to do so, providing we deal with the source of infection in wildlife (Badgers) I think it’s time to be more realistic about what needs to be done with wildlife , to ensure we have a healthy living working countryside free from bTB
Will post results on Friday