A Temporary Control Zone was set up around Rachel and Phil Archer’s farm near Maidenhead, Berkshire, when the couple called DEFRA after finding lesions in their sheep.

This is a diary of what happened leading up to, during and after the ordeal.

Wednesday 12th September

A text message from Animal Health confirming another outbreak of Foot and Mouth and a total ban on livestock movements. Just four days after the restrictions had all been lifted.

We have just moved the lambs onto some fresh grass and were hopeful of finally being able to send some to market. Let’s hope this is an isolated case.

Turns out this outbreak is near Egham, so closer than the Guildford cases of last month. I drove back home through Egham and Runneymede last night, an area that is now in the centre of the new Protection Zone. I hope that journey does not become significant.

Thursday 13th September

Word is that the cattle culled out yesterday all had really bad lesions. We are trying to establish who the farmer is; two names come to the forefront, one would be a real concern.

Once again we lay a straw disinfectant mat by the gate. We decide to close off all entrances to the farm, except the one by our house. I print off signs and laminate them asking people to observe foot and mouth disease precautions.

We also put signs on the footpaths that cross our land. We word them carefully, asking people to refrain from using them. Our neighbour put closed signs up last time and was reprimanded by the local authority.

We are just outside the new Surveillance zone, but close enough to be worried.

Radio Berkshire asks for an interview about Newbury Show and the absence of livestock at this year’s show. Even without another outbreak, it would have been too soon to start mixing cattle at shows.

Friday 14th September

‘Back home, I look out the window and see somebody opening the gates into the farm.’

Do the interview for Radio Berkshire. Their coverage of the foot and mouth crisis has been very good. It is strange hearing my comments being repeated on virtually every news bulletin that morning!

We have two lime spreading orders for next week on farms that are now within the 10km Surveillance zone. I phone both customers to postpone the work, we are not prepared to take any machines into the Surveillance zone.

The conversation turns to this latest outbreak and speculation about the farmer involved. Apparently one of the possibilities has cattle dotted about all over the place, the view is that he wouldn’t have been checking them regularly, and he was seen moving animals around last weekend.

Concern locally that DEFRA may not be aware of all the sites. Surely they have got to cull all his cattle a precaution?

The number of linked holdings appears to be increasing. On Thursday it was one infected premises plus six linked holdings. Now it is one infected site plus seven premises being slaughtered.

I go to the local “farm” store to buy some more disinfectant. Farm is a generous term as it is mainly geared to horses now. Another local farmer, also buying disinfectant, thinks that Newbury Show should be cancelled completely. I certainly wont be attending.

Back home, I look out the window and see somebody opening the gates into the farm. Nobody should be going on site, there are signs on all the gates. By the time I get outside the offender has driven through the gates and through the farm towards our hay barn.

As he gets out his tractor I look at his boots; it is obvious that he hasn’t even dipped them in the tub of disinfectant sat by the gates.

I go absolutely mad at him and his response is even worse – he says that he has never been asked to dip his boots or use disinfectant. Does he not listen to the news or read the papers?

I am flabbergasted and appalled at the same time. We put a second set of padlocks on the yard gates.

Saturday 15th September

E-mail bulletin from the NFU says that movements to slaughter will be allowed from tomorrow, outside of the surveillance zone. Perhaps we can get some lambs away next week?

Monday 17th September

Word is that the cull over the weekend was a complete fiasco. Apparently the cattle got out onto the neighbouring golf course and they had to call in a police helicopter and marksmen to shoot the animals on the course! Why are they taking so long to cull these cattle?

Wednesday 19th September

A new outbreak at Virginia Water. The 10km surveillance zone has moved a little closer, but we are still outside. I phone Thame Market to find out about a collection centre; one is planned for early next week, they will phone later with more details.

Thursday 20th September

Phone Turners and book in two cull cows and our old bull for next Thursday. It will be sad to see him go, but his back legs are now starting to trouble him, it took him two days to recover from serving the last cow!

I book a lorry to transport the animals, the haulier is concerned about the licence requirements, but it seems relatively straightforward.

Friday 21st September

Simon Draper phones from Thame Market. They are holding a collection centre on Tuesday, paying 200p/kg flat rate for lambs. Not very exciting, but I suppose it could be worse. We will probably take a trailer load.

I also need to buy some rams to put in with the ewes. I make a couple of phone calls and find some on a farm near the Cotswolds; I’ll go and have a look early next week and the vendor will keep them for me until the restrictions are lifted.

Saturday 22nd September

News of another outbreak, we piece together the patchy information and work out who the farmer is. This is a real blow, he is a good farmer with lovely cattle.

The outbreak has also crept slightly closer to our farm. I print off another map from the DEFRA web site and see that we are now within the 10k surveillance zone. No chance of getting any lambs sold next week now.

Monday 24th September

I phone Turners and Thame Market to let them know that we are now within the Surveillance zone and will not have any stock forward this week. I also phone the sheep farmer and say that I will not be visiting as planned as we are now in the Surveillance zone.

I speak to a friend who farms within the 3km protection zone. I did not realise that some land that they farm is so close to Beaumont Farm. Their cattle are now on an intensive testing and examination programme. I can’t imagine what they are going through.

Word is that the cattle that were culled on Friday were given the all clear by DEFRA just two days previously. Also, because this is a laboratory strain of the virus, they say it is not behaving like the 2001 outbreak.

I’ve been told that some cattle showed no signs of virus but tested positive. This is rather scary.

We have a phone call from Animal Health in Carlisle enquiring about stock numbers and movements off the farm since 3 August. There is a likelihood of blood testing within the Surveillance Zone.

I mention that we are due to go on holiday next Thursday and ask for any testing to be completed within the next week, or not until we get back.

We are supposed to be going on holiday next Thursday, but I am beginning to wonder whether we should be going?

Tuesday 25th September

‘I am horrified by the response of the DEFRA vet who takes my call.’

We decide to go through all the ewes and lambs, routine foot trimming for the ewes and worming all the lambs as they are unlikely to be sold for a while; we purchased some additional ewe lambs with lambs at foot in June, by now some of the lambs should have been sold.

The sheep enterprise is likely to make a huge loss this year, unless we can get a box scheme for the lamb.

I leave Phil and Karl sorting through the lambs and head off for a meeting in Sussex. I look at the map and work out a route that avoids passing through the inner Protection Zone.

On route I speak to another friend within the Protection Zone. This is the only way to find out what is really going on, the information on the DEFRA web site is no good to those of us farming within the control zones.

foot

I normally turn my phone off in meetings, but for some reason decided to leave it on silent. A call from Phil, I text him and tell him to send a text if urgent. Then a voice mail message and a text, can I call him ASAP, there is a problem with the lambs. I leave the meeting and phone Phil.

They have found some lesions in some of the lambs, around the mouth and on the feet; it does not look like foot and mouth, probably Orf, but they have never seen this on our sheep before.

We agree that we should phone Animal Health since our farm is within the Surveillance Zone and we are very aware of the high level of foot and mouth surveillance just south of Windsor.

‘DEFRA may be trying to play things down in the media, but locally it does not seem that the problem is under control.’

I am horrified by the response of the DEFRA vet who takes my call. I give the farm address and say that I want to report a suspected case of foot and mouth; I am immediately told “it is most unlikely you have foot and mouth”.

I repeat the address and restate that we are within the 10km surveillance zone, downwind of Windsor.

This time I am told that there is no Surveillance zone near us! “Yes there is, I tell the vet, and DEFRA have put my farm inside it”.  “Where did you say you are again…… oh, I thought you meant Fifield near Andover. ”

The vet then takes some details and is still insistent that we don’t have Foot and Mouth, it is only Orf. I say she may be correct, but as we are so close to the recent outbreaks, I think a DEFRA vet should come and have a look.

I am asked to further describe the symptoms, even though I have explained that I am not on the farm.

I am then asked when I will be home to make a diagnosis. I tell the DEFRA vet that I am not going to make the call as to whether it is Orf or whether it is foot and mouth, if I get it wrong then the implications for my neighbours would be considerable.

I then have to phone Phil for further clarification on the symptoms; I tell the DEFRA vet that I don’t think they are taking my call seriously enough.

By the time I phone back they have decided to send out a vet, I am told that one will be leaving shortly and should be with us within the hour.

I leave Sussex and head for home, again taking the long route to avoid travelling through the Protection Zone. It’s a strange journey. I am optimistic as the DEFRA vet was adamant that it is Orf, but am also nervous as to what they might find, FMD can be very difficult to detect in sheep.

I phone my friend Jane and tell her what is happening, **** is her first response, then she advises me to stock up with lots of wine and chocolate.

I am not allowed in the field with the lambs and Phil is not allowed to leave the field. He phones our own vet to ask for guidance on the symptoms and the likely diagnosis. Claerwen agrees that it is probably Orf, but because there are blisters near the feet it would have to be referred to DEFRA anyway.

We need to organise lighting so the vet can properly inspect the lambs and Phil needs some dry clothes. His brother comes to the farm to collect the relevant supplies and some large spot lights.

It transpires that the vet can not come out until the paperwork has been completed, so there is a further delay until eventually a vet is sent from Guildford.

The vet is impressed with the lighting! She examines the lambs that have been penned up. Not enough evidence to slaughter on suspicion, she says. Those words are quite frightening. She will be back early tomorrow morning to check all the sheep and cattle as a precaution.

Wednesday 26th September

‘Our farm is now under restriction and a Temporary Control Zone is established.’

Phil and Karl meet the vet at 8am. Karl is now “Dirty” so he had to cancel his regular work as it would have involved a journey onto a livestock farm. I still have to stay away, so feed the cattle and have a long, slow walk around the other stock on the farm.

I phone two of our neighbours and alert them to what is happening; I would rather they know the full facts and hear it from me, not second or third hand.

By late morning I still haven’t heard anything so I ring Phil. The DEFRA vet has found some unusual lesions on the tongues of some of the lambs. She has no idea what they are.

Thankfully not enough evidence to slaughter on suspicion. She is on the phone to the top sheep vet in DEFRA, who similarly does not know what these lesions are. They decide to take blood samples from 20 of the affected lambs. At first we have to wait for a “Blood Team” to be despatched, then it is decided that the vet on site can take the samples.

Phil and the vets then have to wait for somebody to collect the samples and take them to Pirbright. Our farm is now under restriction and a Temporary Control Zone is established.

Keep out foot and mouth

‘I have to keep calm and focus on the realities of the situation; if the results come back positive then all the cattle and sheep will be slaughtered and that will happen extremely quickly’

I phone my friend Jane and tell her what is happening. It is hard to describe the varying emotions at this time. The positive is that the DEFRA vet does not think this is foot and mouth. The negative is that I’ve been told this is a laboratory strain and animals are not showing the obvious symptoms. May be these lesions are the result of a strange mutation of the virus.

I have to keep calm and focus on the realities of the situation; if the results come back positive then all the cattle and sheep will be slaughtered and that will happen extremely quickly. How does the valuation work?

The cattle are pedigree and there are some good bloodlines in the herd; if the worst happens then we need to ensure the best possible valuation, not that any amount of money would be able to replace some of our best bloodlines.

‘Word spreads extremely rapidly and it is not long before my phone is ringing, almost constantly it seems.’

I phone William White, the NFU Regional Director to explain the situation and ask for clarification on the valuation procedure, God forbid that it should come to that. I then phone another Charolais breeder who’s herd was culled out in the 2001 epidemic and they offer some extremely good advice with regard to the valuation.

I phone our two neighbours again and update them on the situation. Word spreads extremely rapidly and it is not long before my phone is ringing, almost constantly it seems. The first calls are all from friends offering their support. Then the first call from a journalist. How did they find out so quickly?

I begin preparing a portfolio of the Charolais herd. Although it is a relatively young herd, we have used a lot of AI and introduced some good bloodlines. There is some valuable back breeding and some good cow families becoming established.

Typing up details of the cow families, the show successes and the sale results makes me realise just how much we have achieved over the past seven years. It is strangely rewarding to do this, but I can not contemplate anything beyond this stage.

I make some lunch for everybody then we get the ewes in and each one is inspected, fortunately none have these strange lesions. A local police officer arrives and asks what help I might be needing?

‘I am slightly nervous, but these cattle have been inspected every day and not shown any signs of illness so they should be ok.’

Then it is time to inspect the cattle. This is much more difficult to deal with as these are pedigree Charolais cattle. They’ve all got names and several have been shown. I stand by the crush and watch each animal as it comes in and has its mouth opened and examined. I am slightly nervous, but these cattle have been inspected every day and not shown any signs of illness so they should be ok.

I then have a phone call asking me to comment on the outbreak of foot and mouth in Fifield! I am angry at the attitude of the journalist, who it transpires is a reporter on our local paper.

He is obviously desperate for his first big story. I really don’t want to talk to him, but it is quite apparent that if I don’t he will make up a ridiculous story that is a long way from the truth, his deadline is imminent.

With some difficulty I try to make him understand that we do NOT have a case of Foot and Mouth, the vet does NOT think that it is foot and mouth, but blood samples have been taken from some lambs as a precaution.

I try and get him off the phone, explaining that I am helping to put the animals through the crush and right now my cattle are my priority, but he does not seem to hear these words.

Eventually I manage to end the call. Then he phones back 10 minutes later asking me to go out for a photograph. “No” I tell him very firmly, “I’ve just told you that we are putting the cattle through the crush”. “Well can anybody else come out” he asks?

Ten minutes later the phone rings again, another journalist from the same local paper, this time working on their web site. “Would I go out for a video interview?” Again I say no. “Can they go around the farm and take a video?”  Unbelievable.

I am concerned about what they will end up printing so I phone Isobel, the PR officer for the south east NFU and ask her to phone the reporter. I scroll back through all the numbers on my phone and work out which is his number.

Pompous and arrogant is how she later described him. I wonder what the paper will say in the morning.

Then a phone call from BBC London News. Apparently they are outside the farm with a film crew. The journalist asks if he can clarify a few points; I tell him that I will give him the facts as it is important that his news story is accurate.

The broadcast will be live from outside the farm at 6.30pm. 

‘Inside we draw the curtains so nobody can see in.’

We put the cattle back in the field and are aware of a lot of activity by the farm gates, probably journalists. We sneak back into the house via the paddock, I didn’t want to walk through the yard and be spotted on camera.

Inside we draw the curtains so nobody can see in. The phones are still ringing, mostly unrecognisable mobile numbers, which I now realise means journalists and reporters. We can not work out how all these people are getting our mobile phone numbers.

The DEFRA vet starts working through various forms that have to be completed. BBC News is on quietly in the background; we stop to listen to their live broadcast from the farm, it is a bit surreal to see the farmyard and Phil’s tractor on national TV. I am relieved that the report is well presented and factual.

The house phone rings, it is the Vicar that married Phil and I last December, he has heard the news and is praying for us.

Finally the DEFRA vet leaves and I catch up with some phone calls to friends. I then return to my computer and continue working on the valuation. I hope that if I do this now, it wont be required.

Thursday 27th September

‘It is now that the reality of the situation really hits home’

I am woken early by the phone ringing, a journalist wanting an update on the situation. Then BBC Radio Berkshire ask if I will do a live interview just after 8am. Lots of cars drive slowly past the house, some even pausing by the gates before turning around.

I go for a walk around the cattle. It is now that the reality of the situation really hits home. It is very quiet and for once in this whole mad escapade the phone is not ringing. I can not imagine living here with no cows. 

I get my phone out to check the time and find a text message from William White (NFU Regional Director). It is a thoughtful gesture.

Back indoors, Phil’s phone is ringing steadily. 210 FM want a radio interview. And a journalist from another local paper keeps phoning so eventually I call her back. They also want a photo, which I decline, but they are going to send a photographer anyway.

Phil agrees to meet the photographer as at least we might have some control over the photograph. I am getting exhausted from all the phone calls and all the talking.

‘We are front page headlines, with a large picture of our house next to the story.’

Karl leaves a copy of our local paper in the post box. We are front page headlines, with a large picture of our house next to the story. The article reads much better than I had feared, Isobel must have done a good job on him! Apparently there is also a video of our farm on their web site, so we log onto the internet to have a look.

It is late morning when the DEFRA vet phones Phil with the preliminary results, which thank God are negative. However, we are told that we are not out of the woods yet and there are three more sets of results to follow.

The next two are much more in depth. We are hugely relieved at the news but know we need to get through the next couple of days to get the all clear. I phone and text several friends to let them know the good news.

The vet returns in the afternoon for another check of all the stock. They all look healthy. It is interesting to look at pictures in the book which the vet has to help age the FMD lesions. It is quite apparent that without regular and careful checks, an outbreak could go unnoticed. By day four the lesions are starting to heal.

I turn my phone off when we get back indoors. We are absolutely exhausted by events of the last few days. I turn it back on a couple of hours later to find numerous messages, including several from journalists. I am not phoning any back.

Friday 28th September

“This is crazy. Either everything is ok and all the restrictions should be lifted, or there is still uncertainty and all the controls should remain in place.”

Around lunchtime Isobel (NFU press officer) phones to clarify that the Temporary Control Zone has been lifted. This is news to us. We phone and speak to our DEFRA vet who has just found out herself from reading a DEFRA press release.

However, although the TCZ has been lifted, our farm is still under restriction and they are still waiting for the final test results. We still can not move Phil’s truck from the field with the lambs.

This is crazy. Either everything is ok and all the restrictions should be lifted, or there is still uncertainty and all the controls should remain in place. It creates confusion, particularly with our horse tenants and DEFRA seem to be giving out conflicting advice over what movements are and are not allowed.

At least the media has now lost interest in our case!

Phoned another friend with cattle in the Protection Zone. We agree that this weekend is crucial.

Saturday 29th September

A strange day. Still no progress with the final results, so Phil’s truck is still stranded in the field. We start to feel a bit better about the situation and manage to catch up on some jobs around the farm and in the office.

Sunday 30th September

‘We have still not received the final results so Phil phones the DEFRA vet.’

I didn’t turn my phone on until mid-morning, it would have been nice to leave it off all day, but I thought I had better check for messages. Two from my friend Jane, rather panicked because there has been another case of Foot and Mouth nearby and she has not been able to contact me. I phone her immediately, no it’s not us, although we are still under restriction.

Eventually establish that it is a farm near Wraysbury, 60 cattle have apparently been slaughtered. Breathe a huge sigh of relief that it is not Nigel or the Royal Farms. It’s just six miles as the crow flies from here.

Another case is a real blow, not only does it provide no let up from the nervous state of being so close to the outbreak, but also it will put back further the possibility of us being able to market any stock.

 She has been extremely helpful throughout. She expects the results in the morning but says we can be fairly confident that they are negative – if not we would probably have heard by now.

She will probably be out again tomorrow afternoon for another check on the livestock. They are also starting a programme to blood test all cattle within the north of the Surveillance Zone. Our farm is scheduled for the second week of October, but the vet is trying to arrange for the bloods to be taken tomorrow, whilst she is on site.

At last somebody in DEFRA with some common sense! We have already told Animal Health that we are due to go on holiday on Thursday and any sampling must be completed before we go or wait until late October.

I check the DEFRA web site for any more news. FMD has been confirmed at the latest cull and now there will be slaughter of dangerous contacts on four premises. I hope this does not include any of Nigel and Sally’s cattle.

This is such a nervous time. I am nervous for my own cattle and nervous for my friends who farm much closer to these latest cases. They are good cattle farmers who have built their herds up over many years. To loose them would be absolutely devastating.

Sally phones me. Their youngstock on two units are being culled as a firebreak. Even though they have all been tested this week and are clean. As we end the call my eyes are full of tears. Why didn’t DEFRA stamp on this outbreak two weeks ago? They have kept it low key in the media, given the impression that it is all under control, but that is far from the reality.

Monday 1st October

‘The final tests have come back negative and the restrictions on our farm are now lifted’

It is midday before the DEFRA vet phones with the good news that . She visits later that afternoon to have another check around the sheep and also to take blood samples from all the cattle.

We knew this was in the pipeline and it was good of the vet to arrange this before we go on holiday. Hopefully these tests will not cause any problems; it is part of the routine blood sampling of cattle in the north of the surveillance zone. We still don’t feel that the outbreak is under control but are more optimistic about going away at the end of the week.