03 December 1998
Keeping livestock and badgers apart ‘almost impossible’

By Jessica Buss

FARMERS are finding it increasingly difficult to implement methods suggested by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) to reduce the number of on-farm tuberculosis outbreaks.

Official Government advice to farmers aims to minimise cattle-to-cattle and badger-to-cattle contact by fencing off badger setts and keeping badgers out of feed stores.

But preventing TB by keeping badgers away from livestock is almost impossible, said Richard Sibley, a Devon-based vet who is also secretary of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.

Brian Jennings, chairman of the NFU animal health and welfare committee, said badger control methods suggested by MAFF were successful on some farms, but not on others.

“Keeping badgers and cattle apart seems logical, but it is impossible on some units,” he said.

“There has been an increase in trough-feeding for cattle, often outdoors, making it more difficult to fence badgers out.”

Mr Jennings said that supplying trace-element supplements to livestock might help prevent TB.

“When an animal is short of a trace element, it will be more likely to pick up any disease, including TB. But the balance of trace-element supply is delicate, and overdosing also causes problems.”

Barry Jones, chairman of the National Beef Associations TB committee, also voiced concern that MAFF advice was difficult to employ.

Mr Jones, a beef producer in a high-risk TB area in Cornwall, said that MAFF claims of maize silage harbouring TB bacteria were unproven.

More effective controls could include a TB test for animals moved between farms, he added.

“There is talk of printing the farms last TB testing date on the back of cattle passports, which would be useful,” he said.

“Currently it is possible for an animal to move farms and miss testing.”

Mr Jones said more research should be funded to speed up the development of an effective cattle vaccine against TB, which is currently expected to take 10-15 years.

Meanwhile, the Milk Development Council aims to discover why some herds suffer TB breakdowns and others do not.

“It seems producers are reluctant to take MAFFs advice seriously because of lack of evidence based on producer experience,” said Kevin Bellamy, MDC project manager.

“We aim to find out what works in a practical situation. Within the next 12 months we hope to have enough information to produce a report for farmers.”