TB testing© Tim Scrivener

Changes to the way cattle are assessed for bovine TB, and cuts in the level of compensation, will hit some Welsh farmers hard if they come into force next year.

Central to their concerns is a proposal to remove inconclusive reactor (IR) animals from herds – one of the suggestions contained in the refreshed TB eradication programme announced by the Welsh government last week.

See also: Controlled badger cull looks likely for Wales

Andrew Griffiths, who runs a pedigree dairy herd near New Moat, Pembrokeshire, says the financial consequences of this, coupled with a proposal to cap compensation payouts at £5,000, would be catastrophic.

Mr Griffiths’s Holstein herd has been under TB movement restrictions for 12 months.

He has lost 47 animals from what had been a 130-cow herd.

What the Welsh government is proposing

  • Wales split into three areas – low, intermediate and high
  • Possible controlled culling of badgers on case-by-case basis
  • More frequent testing
  • Cattle with “inconclusive” test results culled anyway
  • Compensation cap reduced from £15,000 per animal to £5,000

“Every inconclusive reactor we have had has gone clear at the next test. If these were taken from the herd we would have lost another 20; it would be killing cows for the sake of it,” he insisted.

According to the Welsh government, one in four cattle with inconclusive readings is eventually confirmed as reactors.

Lost output

Mr Griffiths, who has a year-round calving herd at Penlan Farm, is unable to replace the 47 productive animals lost from the herd and the consequences for milk output have been severe.

His milk volume is down by up to 30,000 litres/month on last autumn’s output.

The family has invested heavily in buying some of the best female bloodlines to create Carwyn Holsteins; the compensation they have received for animals slaughtered due to TB has reflected this.

But, if the payment cap is reduced from £15,000 to £5,000, as is proposed by the government in its consultation, they say the business would be under severe financial strain.

Andrew Griffiths with cows in a field

Andrew Griffiths says TB is rife in the area of Pembrokeshire where he farms

“Our milk production profile is down and we are being penalised by our milk buyer for this.

“It is the TB compensation that is keeping the business afloat when what we should be doing investing in the farm,” said Mr Griffiths.

It is the TB compensation that is keeping the business afloat when what we should be doing investing in the farm Andrew Griffiths

“One animal that we bought as a calf for 4,500gns was slaughtered as a two-and-a-half-year-old.

“We had orders for three bulls from her, but that family is now finished because the calf from her first calving died.

“We’ve got two of our sons working with us on the farm and they are interested in the pedigree side of things.

“It’s heartbreaking when these animals go because we really look forward to seeing them come on.”

Implants

Embryos had been implanted into some of the cows that failed the last test.

“The test was on the Tuesday and the cows were due to calf that Friday,’’ Mr Griffiths recalled.

“The ministry wanted to shoot them straight away with the calves inside them, but when we objected they suggested we get a vet in to take the calves from them.

“The cows then calved on the Monday and the cows were shot in the yard in front of us.”

The Welsh government says only 1% of reactors slaughtered in the last year qualified for the upper compensation limit of £15,000 and that the new cap would result in annual savings of £300,000.

Mr Griffiths said TB is rife in the area of Pembrokeshire where he farms.

“Nearly every farm around here is down with TB.

“I read comments by the farming minister that there is not enough proof that badgers are passing TB to cows. How much proof does she need?”