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.


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.