Last month we had the dreaded news that our herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle had gone down with Bovine Tuberculosis. This was the first time that any of our cattle had contracted the disease in the ten years that they have been grazing the Beaminster Downs.
The positive reactor, which was discovered through our annual herd test has large ramifications; infected cattle are to be slaughtered and we are now unable to move any cattle off our farm till they all test negative twice after 60 and 120 days.
Due to the high cases of the disease in Dorset, we have to test our cattle yearly for signs of the disease, as opposed to every four years in low-risk areas. Otherwise, we would only test the animals that are due to move off the farm within the next 60 days.
Once a risk to human health in the UK, Tuberculosis today, however, causes stress and emotional heartache as farmers have their livelihoods slaughtered due to the disease.
TB testing in cattle began in England in 1935, as milk drunk from an infected dairy cow would transmit the disease. As with today, infected cattle would be slaughtered to stop the spread of the disease, which nearly led to the disease’s eradication in the 1970s.
Unfortunately, however, it was soon discovered that badgers and deer were carrying and continuing to spread the disease across the country. Last year, in England alone, over 27,000 cattle were slaughtered due to the disease.
Realistically, there isn’t one solution. And it’s a bit of a hot topic to bring up! The Government have had a three-pronged approach to be TB free by 2038; testing, culling and vaccinations.
Many areas across England have been actively culling the badger population and it was announced in February that this was to be continued in Dorset, Somerset and Devon.
DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) has set a five-year plan to have an effective vaccine for cattle. Currently, there is one, however, it has an effectiveness of around 60% and when tested a vaccinated cow will automatically test positive for the disease.
Badgers can be vaccinated, but only by injections, so they must be caught in a cage and treated. This makes the process extremely costly; a five-year vaccination programme for badgers in Pembrokeshire worked out at £684 per badger.
Last year saw a 10% reduction in Bovine Tuberculosis slaughters in England – but it’s not enough. All of our cattle are to have blood tests in the next month to definitively see the toll of how many more will be killed.
Any animals that are slaughtered are compensated for by the Government, but the real cost is the mental effect on the farmer.
Despite what many people may think, we love our animals. We breed them, raise them and spend every day of our lives with them. We give up family time to spend time in the pouring rain with the boys and girls out in the fields.
it’s a case of having one of your own slaughtered, and farmers will do anything to stop that.
By: Andrew Livingston