The farmer at the heart of the foot and mouth outbreak has spoken exclusively to Farmers Weekly following the confirmation of the disease on his farm on the Surrey/Middlesex border.

Rob Lawrence, who farms alongside his wife Katie, has spent the past 25 years building up a herd of 150 Aberdeen Angus purebred and cross suckler cows with followers at Hardwick Park Farm in Chertsey, Surrey.

On Tuesday night (11 September) during routine checking, Mr Lawrence noticed the first typical symptoms of foot and mouth: slobbery mouths and picking up of feet.

“We notified DEFRA as soon as we returned from the outlying field at about 7.00pm and they arrived at 8.30. However, it was then too dark to see.”

DEFRA served all precautionary restrictions and temporary zones as of that point, and returned at 06.00 the following morning (Wednesday 12 September) to make a closer inspection.

Mr Lawrence, who spent yesterday (Wednesday 12 September) in quarantine at the holding adjacent to Milton Park Farm, was told by DEFRA that the decision had been made to cull all animals on the holding, amounting to about 350 cows and followers, following DEFRA’s examination of all stock.

Animals at both this location and home farm have been slaughtered, he told Farmers Weekly this morning. “I believe they are also in the process of slaughtering at a neighbouring farm”

Cattle under licence to slaughter

Yesterday, 27 cows, 20 calves at foot and 13 fat cattle were culled. “We also had four sows and a young boar at our home farm, which were also culled,” he added. Animals had been valued prior to slaughter.

“We have been careful not to make movements between holdings in previous weeks, in light of the proximity of the last outbreak and the nature of our holding.”

“Animals are not generally moved until weaning, which is due to take place in a few weeks. After weaning, they return to the home farm.”

“We have moved cattle under licence to slaughter since the outbreak.”

Mr Lawrence and his wife, despite their lifelong work to build up numbers on the 160ha (400acres), are unsure whether they will restock.

“I haven’t got a business at the moment. After this, I don’t think we will ever keep cattle again,” he said.

“The real tragedy, apart from the culling, is the fact that our two little boys’ lives are going to change forever.”

George and Lonnie, who have been staying at their grandmothers house, loved working with cattle, something they will perhaps not get the chance to do at Hardwick Park Farm again, said Mr Lawrence. 

See: Foot and mouth disease (FMD) 2007 Surrey outbreak – Farmers Weekly Interactive’s special report