When is a farmer really a farmer?

sheep

Today I was told ‘I’m not a farmer therefore I do not understand.’
This to me came as no surprise. I’m used to the uninterested looks when people discover I do not own thousands of acres of land and that I am effectively, a smallholder.

I consider myself very lucky to be in the position that I am- with a few acres of land, able to keep a fair few animals without worrying about the financial side of things.
Like many I can only dream of one day owning my own farm. Well a real farm anyway.

Even when the TV series First Time Farmers aired there was the resounding “when are they going to use proper farmers” echoing around my Twitter feed.

I’ve grown up with dung in my hair and cows as best friends, I’ve seen the destruction of Foot and Mouth, I’ve said since I was about five years old that I would be a farmer. I studied Agriculture at Hadlow College; this led to me obtaining a degree in Agriculture from the Royal Agricultural University. I’ve lambed god knows how many thousand sheep, been voted runner up Britain’s Sexiest Farmer and I’ve reared my own livestock. Yet, my identity is still floating round in an abyss between non-farming folk seeing me as an agricultural encyclopaedia, but actual farming folk looking at me like a naïve girl desperate to be something I’m not.

It’s hard being a new entrant, and it’s also hard being a female. It seems to me, unless my father owns a farm which I work full time on and will one day inherit, I am pretty stuffed. If I marry a farmer I’ll of course be a farmer’s wife. Being a farmer, it would seem, is a very exclusive club.

I don’t think my dream of having my own farm, or at least enough sheep to not be looked at like a farmer might look at a strand of blackgrass in his wheat, will ever go away and nor will that desperate need in the pit of my stomach.
There is a fear I am going to be haunted with the ‘smallholder’ title for the rest of my life, but in the meantime I will continue to be an advocate for British agriculture, and in fact agriculture all over the globe, and do what I can to show just how hard farmers (you know, real farmers) work every day to feed the world.

thank a farmer

The fight against Bovine tuberculosis

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The second phase of the badger cull to prevent bovine TB has started in Somerset and Gloucestershire. And of course with the cull comes the cruelty claims and hatred towards anyone who thinks it might be a good idea..

In England, we have the highest levels of Bovine tuberculosis in Europe and currently 230,727 cattle have been killed since 2008 from the disease.

Call me naïve but I do have faith in the government and that fact that they would not be doing this if they did not think it was beneficial. Similar methods worked in Australia and Ireland without eradicating badgers and over time I hope it will here too.

Having seen comments on a pest control page I follow I can’t help but feel people’s ignorance is due to their lack of understanding about the true extent of TB and its impact on not just the beef and dairy industry, but people’s lives.

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Many commenters suggested relocating badgers, but to where? Where in the British Isles could these badgers be relocated that has no cattle? Living in a very arable part of the country myself where it is quite rare to see a badger, I can still think of smalls herd of cattle in every direction.

Those that are for the cull suggested putting badgers on the general licence in order to control the disease but this would quite likely see the end of badgers all together which I certainly wouldn’t want to see.

It’s all very well shouting ‘VACCINATE’ in people’s faces, yes that’s everyone’s dream, but the vaccine for badgers is impractical and also very dear. At over £600 per badger it is neither viable nor practical to catch badgers every year in large enough numbers in order to have an effect.

The government predict a working cattle vaccine could be achieved within ten years (but I hope much sooner). In an ideal world this would be great, but wait, then what about all those disease-ridden badgers slowly dying in their setts? Complicated isn’t it.
An oral vaccine to put in bait to treat badgers is also in the process of being developed. You can’t say they’re not trying.

Between 1998 and 2008 the government invested more than £17.8 million towards research into TB in cattle with I can only imagine much, much more spent since.

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Despite the belief of many, no farmer in their right mind wants to go on a bloody killing spree. I like wildlife, I like badgers and I don’t enjoy seeing them being killed but I understand it is necessary to try and secure the future of the beef and dairy industry. Do you really think badgers enjoy being ridden with disease either? Like deer, rabbits and foxes numbers need to be controlled often for the benefit of the species, without eradicating them from the British countryside all together.

I also understand that yes, badgers are not the only cause of bovine TB but they have a lot to answer for. Other measures are being taken such as movement restrictions to prevent further spread and vaccines are being developed but currently it is not enough to have a positive impact on the problem.

The thing that has shocked me most is the lack of empathy for these TB affected farmers. My job is to communicate with farmers, which I love, but the stories I hear often reduce me to tears even just as an observer of the situation.

Not only is this disease ruining livelihoods but much-loved stock is being killed, sometimes for no reason. If the nation’s pet cats and dogs were suffering from an incurable disease contracted by badgers would you be on the badgers’ side? I highly doubt it.
A lot of antis argue that if a farmer gets compensation for the animals killed then what’s the big deal? Well let’s say somebody runs over your dog and dumps it on the side of the road but the police tell you, “Hey, what’s the big deal, you’ve got insurance haven’t you? Just get another one” But you can’t because you know it’ll probably just get run over again. In fact all your dogs are going to get run over by the same person. Like TB.
Yes, farmers do get compensation but the amount is less than the value of the animal, funds take months to come through putting financial strain on the business, but above all, the owner of these cattle has gone through the trauma, heartbreak and absolute despair of losing an animal that it is their job, and their life, to rear and care for.
If you think it’s as simple as having a bit of cash thrown at you for each animal you’ve lost then you don’t understand the relationship between a human and his animal and I feel sorry for you.

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I know many, many people will still fail to understand, but can you imagine if your life, your livelihood, everything you love and everything you live for was destroyed just how you might feel.
These people are doing all they can to try and protect everything they have against this awful disease but many of them know full well they are fighting a losing battle.

NFU President, Meurig Raymond, yesterday wroten to NFU members to update them on the situation. I will leave you with his letter.

“I am writing to you today to confirm that the second year of the pilot badger culls in the South West of England has started.
In the South West – where bovine TB is endemic and herds are continually being reinfected despite farmers’ best efforts to protect them – controlling the disease in badgers has to be an essential part of any strategy to wipe this disease out.
Travelling round the country I’ve seen first-hand the total human misery this disease causes for farmers and their businesses. I’ve sat round farm kitchen tables with families who have been driven to despair after investing time and money building up their herds, only to see them devastated by bTB. I’ve spoken to grown men who’ve been reduced to tears as they load cow after cow, or calf after calf, onto lorries to be taken away for slaughter because of this disease. I also know from personal experience the emotional and economic impact this disease has because my own farm is currently under TB restrictions and I am determined to ensure that everything possible is done to tackle this disease.
No one would choose to kill badgers if there was an effective alternative in areas where TB is rife. But if we’re ever going to get on top of bTB in areas where the disease is endemic there is no other choice. The Chief Vet has said culling over a four-year period in both pilot areas will have an impact on disease control. I am confident that these pilot culls will help deliver a reduction in bTB in cattle and it is vital that they are allowed to be successfully completed so they can deliver the maximum benefits.
The Independent Expert Panel made recommendations to improve the delivery of the culls and both licensed companies have implemented these recommendations for this year. I know the people delivering the culls are focused on carrying them out as safely, humanely and effectively as possible so they provide the maximum benefit in the fight against bTB and I applaud their commitment and dedication to carrying out this job in often difficult circumstances.
While culling has to be an essential part of any strategy to control and eradicate bTB in areas where it is endemic, it is only one part of a much wider strategy to get rid of this terrible disease. And that is the ultimate goal – the eradication of a disease which resulted in more than 32,000 cattle being needlessly slaughtered in Great Britain last year and for which there is no cure. No one has ever said culling alone will wipe out bTB. Only by doing everything we can will we achieve what everybody wants – a TB free England.
Badger vaccination could have a role to play in areas that are clear of bTB to stop the disease spreading any further. I know farmers in some of these areas are already involved with local badger vaccination projects because they recognise how important stopping this disease is. Cattle vaccination is also a key element. It is unacceptable that a workable cattle vaccine is still ten years away and I can assure you the NFU will be doing everything it can to get this process speeded up.
It is vital that we keep TB out of the parts of the country where there are currently very few breakdowns. Cattle movement controls continue to be tightened where that is necessary, but it is important that these controls allow businesses to continue to operate viably as well as preventing the spread of the disease.
Bovine TB continues to devastate farming family businesses in large parts of the country. I can assure you that the NFU remains totally committed firstly to stopping the spread and ultimately to eradicating this disease and recognises that this will only be achieved by using every available option.”