The fight against Bovine tuberculosis

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Tribute to a Jersey Cow

When you help someone out you’ll often expect a gift in return. Sometimes a card, some nice flowers, or even a box of chocolates. But I was given the gift of a Jersey cow.
At just 8 years old my days were spent eat, sleeping and breathing cows. I’m pretty sure I had more cow-contact than human contact but surely that can’t be a bad way to live.
One evening whilst alone in our cow shed one of the girls, Charlotte, came into calf. Something wasn’t right. The owners lived in Sussex, there were heavy restrictions at the time due to Foot and Mouth, so we called the only person with such cow expertise, a lady called Sandy. She came, she calved, she conquered.

It was soon decided that this gorgeous little fudge coloured heifer calf would too, be named Sandy.
(Don’t worry, she returned the favour later on and named one of her Limousins Alice).
Once Foot and Mouth had passed and movement restrictions were lifted, the herd moved on. I was heartbroken to see my childhood best friends gone but a letter I received alleviated some of that pain. At just 10 years I was now the proud owner of my very own Jersey cow.

Growing up with Sandy was a pleasure. My friends loved nothing more than coming round to brush, ride or cuddle Sandy.
Call me biased but i think Jerseys are the most magical breed. With their thick black eyelashes, gorgeous coats and lovely black tails. As I’ve always been told, if you’re going to have livestock, get something pretty, you have to look at it everyday. The fact their thick, creamy, gold top milk is positively delectable is just another bonus.

Now I don’t know about you but when I think of a Jersey cow I think of a loving, docile girl with a sweet, warm breath. Sandy did not receive this memo and at times she possessed the devil inside her. If she was feeling playful or a bit cheesed off you’d better hope you had a fence between you.

Sandy has been consistently there for me throughout my entire teenage-hood and way over half of my life. When things got confusing, frustrating or stressful there was nothing better to do than go and lie down in the field with her and cuddle.
Today I cuddled Sandy for the very last time.

Watching her come into the world and then leave it 13 years later was heartbreaking.
With the personality and body of a cow over half her age the shock still hasn’t hit.
Now not many people would keep a cow as a pet, not many people would play football with their cow, not many people would understand how important a cow can be, and not many people would write a blog about it. But then not many have had a cow like my Sandy.




I would like to express my sincere gratitude towards John at Westpoint Veterinary Group for being so efficient, kind and sensitive during Sandy’s last hours.