Store cattle numbers at auction markets in areas hit hard by bovine tuberculosis have fallen sharply this week, after the introduction of pre-movement testing on Monday, 27 March.

In the West Country, Truro market had just 186 store cattle forward on Wednesday, compared with 500 last week and 300 on average for this time of year.

At Cirencester market in Glos, Jon Pullin reported 340 stores forward at Tuesday’s auction, compared with 650 last week and an average of about 500.

“I’m surprised numbers hadn’t fallen further.

I have heard of some markets who didn’t have a beast, and the next couple of weeks will be interesting.

I feel we will be even shorter of numbers in the coming weeks.”

But at Hexham, Northumberland, trade was said to be as normal.

Although DEFRA had agreed to some changes to the rules for exempt markets and finishing units – after discussions with the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, the NFU and National Beef Association – they were still an absolute farce, said Mr Pullin.

“I don’t think they will do anything to reduce TB; it all just makes one wonder if there is an ulterior motive in trying to get rid of live markets.

It’s difficult enough already without all these rules.”

Ben Messer-Bennetts, vice-chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, said he was pleased that DEFRA had taken the industry’s advice on board and made the rules more practical to implement.

“But there are still some points which need clarification and there is confusion out there, which is making trading much more difficult.

Up in the north they’ve been turning cattle away because there is nobody there to buy them.”

A lack of exempt finishing units meant people would have to pre-movement test any cattle being sold on for finishing, said Mr Messer-Bennetts.

“Nobody is going to take the risk of being shut down with a failed test, so if they need money they are having to sell underweight cattle to slaughter.”

Peter Roberts, who farms with his son Michael and keeps 130 suckler cows at Blable Farm, Wadebridge, Cornwall, said he was furious at the way farmers were being treated.

“We haven’t had our single farm payment yet, and now we are unable to sell anything.

Where is the money meant to come from?

Also, if the markets disappear, how is anyone going to trade stores?”

olivia.cooper@rbi.co.uk