Cumbria is facing its first large-scale outbreak of bovine tuberculosis on a dairy farm near Penrith where 64 animals have been slaughtered.
The outbreak has already triggered calls for a county-wide TB test of all dairy cows to be considered.
The herd, which is in a four-year testing programme, had been tested “clear” 18 months ago, according to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
But as post-mortem examinations were being carried out on the slaughtered cattle this week, vets expressed concern over the length of time the disease may have been present on the farm.
Veterinary investigations will concentrate on the source of the outbreak which has occurred on a farm running a “closed” herd and where there are reported to have been no movements of cattle on or off the holding and no indication that wildlife in the area has become infected.
Cumbria has been virtually free of bovine TB apart from a “pocket” of problems in a small area in the south-west corner of the county – over 50 miles from the current outbreak.
DEFRA vets said it would be three weeks before the full test results on the slaughtered cattle were available. Contiguous testing of cattle on neighbouring farms was already under way.
“The herd has been placed under movement restrictions, and a number of animals have been removed for slaughter after reacting to the skin test. Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency staff are working to determine the source of the infection and TB testing of neighbouring holdings is under way,” said the official DEFRA statement.
Leading dairy cattle auctioneer Edward Brown of Harrison and Hetherington, said the outbreak was “deeply worrying” for Cumbria’s dairy farmers.
“Few cattle come into the county and when dairy farmers do buy cattle they are extremely cautious about where they come from.”
Cumbria milk producer Russell Bowman, chairman of the North West dairy board, said it was important that vets located the source of the outbreak as quickly as possible.
“We’re told it’s a closed herd so that makes the situation even more worrying. We certainly don’t want to discover that we’ve got TB in our wildlife here in Cumbria.
“At this stage we must hope animal health staff can contain the outbreak and can discover how the farm became infected,” said Mr Bowman of Armathwaite, near Carlisle.