TB testing© Tim Scrivener

A farmer’s daughter has shared her family’s distress at the loss of one-quarter of their herd of pedigree Jersey cows after their latest TB test.

It comes as Defra figures show the number of animals slaughtered as a result of bovine TB rose by 25% in Wales and 6% in England in the 12 months to September 2015 (see panel below).

Jenny Ashton from Peters Marland, near Torridge in Devon, posted a message on Facebook which explained that 45 out of their herd of 180 cows had just been earmarked for slaughter after reacting to a TB test.

See also: TB vaccine shortage suspends badger vaccination project

Miss Ashton, a graduate of Harper Adams University, works on the farm along with her parents and uncle.

The social media message, which has been shared nearly 1,600 times in less than 24 hours, has led to hundreds of messages of support from friends and other farmers.

It described how the family had been left numb at the prospect of losing such a big proportion of their herd in one go.

“How anyone can justify killing all these brilliant cows, to extend the misery of a sick badger as it slowly dies, I do not know,” it said.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly, Miss Aston said she hoped her message would help to show how much farmers cared about the loss of their stock due to TB.

“I wanted people to see what this does to a family. We are all numb and it feels like Christmas has now been cancelled.”

The farm had gone down with TB initially seven or eight years ago, but it went clear in the summer, which had also happened in the past, she said.

But the family was forced to have an emergency test after two cull cows came back with lesions and the results came back over the weekend.

“This is one-quarter of the herd and some of our best cows. Over the years we’ve probably lost about 100 cows in dribs and drabs, but never as many as this,” she said.

Miss Ashton said the cows were being picked up on Saturday, but would have to be transported to Wales to be slaughtered, which was upsetting for the family too.

Until then, the reactors were having to be milked separately to the rest of the herd and the milk thrown away. “When we bring them into the parlour everyone has gone silent – it is horrible.”

The family would come back stronger, she said, but rebuilding the herd would be tricky. “We’ve got to buy in, but we don’t really normally. We run an autumn-calving, pedigree Jersey herd and it feels like we will be taking a step back.”

Bovine TB figures

The number of animals slaughtered as a result of bovine TB rose by 25% in Wales and 6% in England in the 12 months to September 2015, according to Defra figures.

The total number of cattle slaughtered as either a reactor, inconclusive reactor or direct contact across the whole of Great Britain rose to 34,836 in the 12 months to September 2015, compared with 32,049 in the previous 12-month period.

The number of new herd incidents also rose by 9% in Wales and 1% in the high-risk areas of England.

In edge areas the number of new incidents decreased by 14%, but the overall incidence rate increased.

NFU Cymru president Stephen James said the Welsh statistics were a real concern and evidence that bovine TB continued to cause untold heartache and stress to cattle farmers across Wales. 

“Welsh farmers continue to adhere to some of the most stringent cattle movement and testing controls in the world, however these measures will not be enough on their own to significantly reduce and eradicate bovine TB from Wales.”

Mr James said it was a fallacy that vaccinating badgers in a TB-endemic area of Wales would eradicate the disease and now vaccination had been suspended because of a shortage of the vaccine, the government had to take action.

“The Welsh government must now step up to the mark and introduce a comprehensive eradication strategy that includes removing the infection from the wildlife population.”

Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said the figures showed it was not possible to get on top of the disease without getting on top of bovine TB in the wildlife population through culling.

“We are constantly getting new cattle movement measures introduced and we are doing everything we can as far as that goes. It shows we have to deal with the disease as a whole.”