8 March 2002

Time running out, says victim of TBslaughter

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

A CLOSED herd, all home-grown feed and no contact with other cattle yet Herefordshire farmer Matthew Oliver was left to watch and weep as his suckler cows were shot as tuberculosis reactors.

Mr Oliver refused to allow seven of his animals to be killed away from Ocle Court, Ocle Pychard, because none of them had ever been on a lorry and he wanted them to suffer as little stress as possible.

He is convinced that badgers brought the disease to his farm. His suckler herd has been closed for many years, it never grazes the one field next to a neighbouring farm that keeps cattle, and all feed is home-grown.

"I cannot see what, other than the badgers, could be the source of the infection," Mr Oliver told farmers weekly. "I am definitely not anti-badger but, if cattle are not to disappear from some areas, we simply cannot afford to wait for the results of the badger trial.

"On farms where there are reactors, sample animals from badger setts must be trapped and tested. All animals in infected setts should be culled. If there is no suitable way of testing live animals then they will have to be humanely killed. Animal rights people will object, but they were not standing on the yard as my cows, six of them in late pregnancy, were destroyed."

The seventh was 14 years old and the last survivor from the farms original pedigree Hereford herd. Having given long service she would never have been culled. Seeing her put down was particularly upsetting.

Mr Oliver believed that after BSE and foot-and-mouth the predicted sharp increase in the number of TB reactors will be the last straw for many beleaguered livestock farmers.

"We cannot go on taking knock after knock. My family has been here since 1880. I am the fourth generation and I have never wanted to do anything else but farm. But if we keep getting reactors I might decide to sell the land in small blocks to people from the cities."

His more immediate problem is to decide what to do about replacing slaughtered cattle to maintain the number on which he claims suckler cow premium. He also knows that he will be unable to sell store cattle until the herd is clear.

"My case is not unique, reactors are being slaughtered all over the UK. It is time for the government to listen to cattle farmers and veterinary surgeons and have the courage to do whatever is necessary to halt the spread of a disease that is causing distress to many other caring farmers." &#42