SURROUNDED BY A
Herefordshire farmers Sue and
Paul Snell, like many, are
taking life on a day-by-day –
or even hour-by-hour – basis.
Liz Boynton reports
WHEN Sue and Paul Snell look out of their kitchen window they can see the smoke from burning carcasses – a reminder of the foot-and-mouth disease that surrounds their pig unit at Harewood End in Herefordshire.
For ever more farming families, unfortunately, this is now a familiar sight. And for Sue, the added worry has been that in the very near future it would not be the Ministry lighting the pyres at their farm, but her husband Paul.
"Were living from day to day – some days its hour by hour depending on whats on the news or what our local vet says," explained Sue (pictured). "Were not able to move our pigs because were in an infected area. In the past few days theres been an outbreak in the next village, so now were within the 3km zone.
"For the past three weeks weve been trying to squeeze the animals in, but weve no land and we just havent anywhere to put them," Sue continued.
"Our vet has said that pigs in cramped conditions will soon start attacking one another – next week were going to have to do something."
The couple has learned there is to be some partial compensation for voluntary slaughtering of animals on welfare grounds, but details are vague.
"At the moment the position is that weve got to kill the pigs ourselves on the premises and get rid of the bodies. Its up to us to solve the problem. But hopefully things are going to change.
"I would feel an awful lot happier if my husband did not have to kill his own animals, but we must keep enough space between the pigs to keep them safe and look after their welfare.
"Presumably if you get foot-and-mouth you could shut yourself away and let the Ministry come in and do it all for you. For us – wed have to organise the vet, the slaughterman and be there, hands on, doing it."
Paul has 120 breeding sows and runs a pig fattening unit. Up to 100 piglets a fortnight are produced and each of these pigs is adding to the growing welfare problem at Little Meadow Farm.
Sue explained: "Its not just that weve got three weeks extra pigs on the farm today. In a fortnights time there will be another hundred – and a fortnight after that another hundred – until Christmas. So for us this slaughter wont just happen the once.
* Scheme on way
"At the moment they are thrashing out a scheme to dispose of animals on welfare grounds. Hopefully they will take on board the worries of farmers in our situation who are facing the reality of slaughtering our own stock."
Unfortunately as the scheme was not in place by the middle of the last week, Paul was forced to organise the slaughter and burial of the first of his animals – a dire task which began late last week.
During recent weeks the situation has constantly changed, and Sue is desperately hoping that the Ministry will take a more active role. But the uncertainty takes its toll. "You look out of the kitchen window. Its worse at night because in the daytime you can just see the smoke. At night when its dark you can see the flames, and its huge and its been there for nine days.
"Weve got no money coming in from the farm. I have a small child-minding business, which puts food on the table and fits in well with our own three children. The saving grace is that the pig unit is 200 yards down the road from the farmhouse.
"Im up and down like a yo-yo. One minute Im going to attack everybody – the next Im opening a bottle. You do feel bad sometimes, but weve got some good neighbours, friends and family who are always on the phone.
"Paul is 49 and he works seven-days-a-week on the pig unit – we havent had a holiday for three years.
"If he came home to an empty house hed feel worse – but he has to keep his chin up for the children."
Some local farmers have sent their children away from the farm because of exams and to make sure that if the worse happens the children would not be there to witness the distress and devastation.
Sue concluded: "If we got foot-and-mouth I dont know whether Paul would have the heart or the financial backing to start up again. But I dont know what else hed do. I cant see him collecting up supermarket trolleys.
"Weve now been promised some compensation, but weve still got a daunting task ahead of us. Foot-and-mouth is just round the corner – who knows what might happen?"