TB testing carries hidden costs

The hidden costs of bovine tuberculosis testing are wiping about £50 a head off the bottom line of beef finishers, according to a farmer in Cornwall.

Bill Perry, who finishes about 900 dairy and cross-bred steers a year near Launceston, has calculated that every TB test costs him between £45 and £55 per animal in weight loss alone. “It is quite stressful for the cattle, running them through the race – there is a visual difference between the ones that you leave and those that you test.” On top of that were additional labour costs for two to three days of testing, every 60 days.

Having regularly weighed the cattle which were finished indoors, Mr Perry reckoned they lost about 10kg per week for two weeks after the test and took three weeks just to regain their original weight. With average growth rates of 1.5-2kg a day, at £2.60/kg deadweight and a killing out percentage of 50%, that equated to £45-£55 a head. “If you’re testing every 60 days, that is a significant setback.”

Although he could keep the cattle an extra three weeks, at a cost of about £25 a head in extra feed and bedding, it was not practical over the winter when the housing was full. And with mostly dairy steers, the compensation paid for reactors was also grossly inadequate, at £633 a head against a true sale price of about £800 a head.

While Mr Perry accepted the need for some TB testing, it was the unnecessary tests which he found particularly exasperating. “Why do we need to test cattle that are going to the abattoir in three or four weeks, where they will be tested anyway? It’s ludicrous.”

Pre-movement testing had done nothing to reduce the incidence of TB. “And now they’re talking of bringing into post-movement testing. TB is so rife now that it makes no difference at all, unless they tackle the wildlife problem.”

Tracing tests were similarly infuriating, requiring farmers to test individual animals brought from a farm which subsequently went under TB restriction. “It is a real issue. I get at least two tracing letters a week – that’s more than 100 a year,” he said.

“All the animals have been pre-movement tested already, so it’s a complete waste of time. Some farmers are testing every two or three weeks and a lot are up in arms about it. The regime has to change – TB is not the problem, it’s the bureaucracy that’s killing farming.”

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