Neale McQuistin

I took a bit of a risk with my health towards the end of 2014. 

I spent a day in my cattle pens collecting blood from my Highland cows. Horned cattle are not a problem once you’re used to working with them. However, I thought it was worth taking the risk to blood test them because I want to keep my fold of cattle healthy. 

I firmly believe that it’s important to get on to early signs of infection to either treat it or to remove the source of further infection. I screened them for four of the most common diseases – IBR, BVD, Johne’s and leptospirosis. 

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Of the 320 samples that were analysed from my 80 head of cattle, three were inconclusive so I had them all to gather in again to retest the three animals.

It was another chance to get skewered by one of the 160 horns that rattle past me in the pens. They were all clear in the end so that was a relief.

I’m also blood testing my new Blackface ewes for maedi visna this week. We keep the new Blackies that we bring on to the farm in isolation for six months while they go through two blood tests six months apart.

The sheep come from a real hill farm in the hills at the head of the valley. The chances are very remote that they will have MV. However, I think it’s worth the effort even if it is back-breaking work holding on to 100 sheep while the vet takes the blood.

This week was spent dosing all of our sheep for fluke, even the hoggs that are inside for the winter got a fluke dose, to clean out anything that was missed at housing.

I’ve picked through bits and pieces of unpleasant stuff on the ground to collect samples to screen for fluke and other parasites. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do that I consider too risky or unpleasant to ensure that my animals remain healthy.  

So why is my own bowel cancer screening kit still sitting behind the clock? Not the latest one, but the one that came in 2012. I found it there when I placed the kit that came in 2014 beside it… two months ago.

Am I unique among farmers or are there more idiots like me who care more about their animals’ health than their own? 

It would be all too easy to have a play on words at this point, but I’m not going to make light of it. I have friends who are no longer here that have succumbed to that form of cancer. 

A chance encounter with a guest at our local Burns supper made me take a different view of life. He has worked in hospitals all of his life. He could tell me about the thousands of people who are saved every year by catching the signs early.

He made me feel quite selfish by not completing the test. Her outdoors will probably endure far worse indignities than me in an attempt to ensure that the young McQs don’t lose a parent to cancer.

I finally decided that my problem was not selfishness, laziness or squeamishness. Cowardice is my problem. It’s the fear of what I might find that has held me back. All this is, of course, illogical when you consider my philosophy with my livestock.

Anyhow, the deed is done. If anyone who reads this is remotely as stupid as me please do have a look behind the clock to make sure nothing is being ignored.

Neale McQuistin

Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland. In partnership with wife Janet he farms 365ha, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.