We are hugely dismayed at the political wobble. Despite the science, the judicial review, the huge efforts of the NFU and the courage of all the farmers involved in the pilot projects, we are once again in the land of false hope and empty promises. I fear we will see the same government dither next year when we are even closer to an election.
After being clear on our farm for three years, we are now in TB breakdown – despite a stringent biosecurity policy with our closed suckler beef herd, which involves electric fencing, gateway barricading to stop badger access, mineral licks off the ground, calf creeps in the middle of the pastures and other measures to keep badgers out of our barns and grazing meadows.
It could have been worse – we are in a serious TB hotspot. After the heavy deluges of rain and little sunshine to kill badger bacterial excretion, we did not have much hope for a clear test. Compared with other dairy and beef producers, we’re not losing a huge number of cattle at the moment.
We have three TB reactors – all home-bred stock – honest, quality cattle: two in-calf cows (five to six months gone) and a young heifer – all the same bloodlines, quiet, biddable, the best. Yesterday (Thursday 25 October) they were loaded on the lorry and slaughtered. It’s not three animals but five; the fate of the unborn calves troubles us.
Our situation raises questions and we welcome scientific and animal health response to the following issues.
The majority breakdown is on land close to the National Trust vaccination programme. This is the first time we have had a TB breakdown on this ground in the past 20 years. Is our breakdown a result of perturbation? Does vaccinating an already TB-infected badger create a stress situation and more infection is shed? Is this policy increasing the risk of spreading TB to neighbouring farms as infected badgers migrate to new areas?
With such wet weather the past six months and little sun to reduce the impact of badger-shed bacteria, could we see a significant increase in new herd breakdowns when cattle come off pasture and are housed?
Is the incidence of nose-to-nose contact with infected badgers a much greater factor in disease transmission than previously thought given the badger population increase? Are more inquisitive cows at greater risk?
We have enormous respect for the farmers in the pilot areas who are prepared to make a difference and stand up to be counted in the face of intimidation and threat.
We are resigned to financial loss and business disruption. But we are determined TB will not define our future nor the goal of healthy badgers and cattle on our farm.
Jilly Greed is a Ladies in Beef co-founder and beef farmer
Bovine TB and the badger cull