The number of cattle being slaughtered in England due to bovine TB remains stubbornly high, the latest government figures reveal.

During the period January to February 2014, 5,928 cattle were slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts.

This figure represents a 6% fall compared with the same period in 2013, when 6,304 TB-infected cattle were slaughtered.

The number of tests carried out on officially TB-free herds was 15,977 during January to February 2014, compared with 14,906 during the same period in 2013.

The provisional incidence rate for January to February 2014 – the proportion of previously TB-free cattle herds found to be infected with new cases of the disease – was 3.9%, compared with 4% for January to February 2013.

But DEFRA said care needed to be taken not to read too much into short-term figures, especially as this figure (3.9%) includes a “number of unclassified incidents”.

Read more on: the badger cull

The figures were released by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) on Wednesday (14 May).

The average cost of a TB breakdown in high-risk areas of England was £14,000 to farmers and £20,000 to government in 2012.

Nationally in 2013, 32,620 cattle – almost 90 a day – were compulsorily slaughtered as a result of TB, down from 37,734 animals in 2012.

During the past 10 years, DEFRA estimates the disease has cost the taxpayer £500m. It has forecast this figure will rise to £1bn during the next 10 year if the disease is left unchecked.

The second year of a pilot badger cull in two counties, west Somerset and west Gloucestershire, is due to start this summer.