26 December 1997

Badger TB risk can be cut

By Sue Rider

MANAGEMENT practices can help reduce the spread of TB from badgers to cattle, yet few cattle producers implement them.

The view of MAFF researcher Chris Cheeseman is reflected in the Krebs report published last week. It claims that simple husbandry methods to separate badgers and cattle could play a significant role in reducing risk of transmission of the disease.

Krebs even suggests that the government considers whether incentives might be offered to those farmers adopting a more proactive and constructive approach to husbandry to keep badgers and cattle apart.

"Some time ago my research team recognised that certain husbandry techniques could reduce risks of transmission," explains Dr Cheeseman.

"These include common sense measures – such as keeping badgers out of buildings, and away from outdoor feed and drinking troughs or mineral licks. Cattle should be kept away from any badger setts or latrines. A small portable electric fence around these areas would be sufficient. If I farmed in a high risk area I would certainly consider doing this.

"Yet I have been truely surprised at how reluctant some farmers have been to implement even basic measures, such as keeping badgers out of buildings or cattle away from setts."

Dr Cheeseman recognises that reluctance in part to adopt such measures is due to perceived practical difficulties, cost, and lack of convincing evidence that husbandry could have a beneficial effect. That is why the Krebs recommendation to set up a trial to find out how effective are different husbandry techniques would, he believes, be so useful.

"A comparative trial would enable us to measure the effects of implementing the farm management factors identified as possibly influencing the spread of TB," says Dr Cheeseman.

"Once we have quantified how effective different techniques are at reducing TB risks, we could give a clearer idea of the financial benefits of such measures."

He recognises that the measures implemented in any trial must be simple, practical and kept to a minimum. This would ensure they could be adopted easily by farmers.

A trial may have to run for five years to provide meaningful results, but could be set up very swiftly, within months, he believes.

His main concern is getting co-operation from farmers.

"I agree with Prof Krebs that the only way this issue will be taken seriously by the farming community is if if there is some sort of financial incentive provided for those farmers who can demonstrate that they have adopted practical measures to keep badgers and cattle apart."

More care should be taken to keep cattle and badgers apart to reduce TB risks, according to the newly-published Krebs report. But farmers say it is too difficult to protect all sources of cattle feed and water from badgers – especially when their cattle are out at grass in the spring and summer.

HUSBANDRY MEASURES

&#8226 Keep badgers out of cattle buildings.

&#8226 Water/feed troughs away from badgers.

&#8226 Fence off badger setts and latrines.