Pembrokeshire farmer loses 44 more cows to bovine TB

A Pembrokeshire dairy farmer who has lost 180 cows to bovine TB since July is demanding action from the Welsh government to tackle the disease in wildlife.

Fourth-generation dairy farmer Steve Evans says a further 44 cows have tested positive for TB in the past fortnight at his farm just outside Haverfordwest. The condemned cows will be removed from the farm next week and humanely slaughtered.

However, Mr Evans says the situation could get worse as a further 48 cows need to be retested this week – and he fears many will likely be returned as positives.

See also: New bovine TB management pilot awarded to Pembrokeshire

“I’ve lost an awful lot of cows to TB. By the time we do these blood tests, I could have lost up to 50% of my herd since July,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“Since August, bovine TB has cost me £30,000-£35,000 a month and there was never this amount of money in the job.

“I have not been able to replace any cows yet due to the severity of the breakdown, which has massive implications for my business.”

Mr Evans says it is also “nonsensical” for him to replace cows due to how pre-movement testing is done.

For example, a pre-movement test is done under standard interpretation (using the skin test), which can often allow cows through that are potentially infected.

If he buys those cows, he is under severe interpretation, so there is a high chance they will test positive when they arrive at his farm.

‘Out of control’

Mr Evans says bovine TB is “out of control” in Pembrokeshire and he knows of eight other farms in his parish that have gone down with TB in the past 12 months, yet there is no nose-to-nose contact between herds.

On 31 January, fellow Pembrokeshire dairy farmer Lucy Alisson, who farms near Cardigan, posted a chilling photo on X of a pile of dairy cow collars on the ground alongside a note saying 43 were leaving the farm after testing positive for TB.

Mr Evans said: “We are split by roads, rivers and railways, yet there is one common theme – an awful lot of wildlife.”

At the last count in 2017, there were 17 different badger setts on his farm and he says badger numbers have grown considerably since then.

“It only takes one badger to infect one cow and then the disease spreads around the other animals, because as we know, cow-to-cow transmission is huge,” said Mr Evans.

“But the cows are culled and the badgers are allowed to carry on. If ever there was a time for a cull, it would be now, especially with the success of the cull in England.

“You cannot continue to cull one species that is carrying the disease without culling the other. Bovine TB is not going to improve at all.”

New TB pilot

Mr Evans is one of 15 farmers taking part in the Pembrokeshire Bovine TB Project, a collaborative, industry-led initiative that is exploring ways for farmers and vets to tackle the disease.

“Ultimately, we need a more joined-up approach from the Welsh government because the whole emphasis is being put back on farmers and vets, but with no enthusiasm for getting their own house in order in terms of disease control,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Welsh government said although it could not comment on individual cases, it was very aware of the distressing effect of bovine TB on the health and wellbeing of farmers and their families, which is why it is absolutely determined to eradicate bovine TB in Wales as set out in its delivery plan.

He added: “Overall, we are seeing progress across Wales, with new herd incidents decreasing in the long term.

“Farmers working closely with their vet, across Wales, is crucial to both protect herds and keep TB out, as well as tackling the disease if it does occur.

“Government cannot eradicate TB alone – partnership working with our farmers and vets is crucial to reach our shared goal of a TB-free Wales.”