Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Badger dispersals - 308 km further than expected.

Published this week, a study on the movement patterns - [link] of badgers, conducted over seven years in Ireland.

 Entitled 'Dispersal patterns in a medium‐density Irish badger population: Implications for understanding the dynamics of tuberculosis transmission' the paper gives an insight into population dynamics of groups of badgers and more importantly, how far they 'disperse' from home territory.

The abstract explains:
...that dispersal is an extremely complex process, and measurements of straight‐line distance between old and new social groups can severely underestimate how far dispersers travel. Assumptions of straight‐line travel can also underestimate direct and indirect interactions and the potential for disease transmission.

For example, one female disperser which eventually settled 1.5 km from her natal territory traveled 308 km and passed through 22 different territories during dispersal.
* 308 km is 190 miles, in old money.

Now it isn't rocket science to conclude from all that is known of badger behaviour that within a finite area, with a finite food supply and unlimited population increase, something is going to have to give.

And old, sick individuals or young males are turfed out from the group to fend for themselves. The paper describes one collared female (F11) as having sustained bite wounds on her travels.

 The implications for disease transmission are explained thus:
Our results illustrate that a single individual disperser may interact with over 20 social groups, often sleeping in their territory, providing abundant opportunities for disease transmission. Individuals such as this, who have extensive contact with other individuals, will affect the way in which disease is transmitted through a population, and particularly, a population structured into social groups.
As cattle farmers, what we picked up from this, and a quick scroll through a few of the 130 references given (yes that is correct - over 100 previous research papers are named) is that badger social groups are not stable, and when individuals leave the group - for whatever reason - they travel a lot further than was thought.

Up to 308 km (190 miles) for one collared individual, passing through (and fighting with) 22 other groups on its travels.

However, given the beneficial opportunity to trouser loads more 'research' cash, scientists have not yet homed in on the obvious solution to diseased wildlife roaming far and wide.

This paper discusses vaccinating prior to 'dispersal', but the simplest solutions are often the best.

Identify infected groups and euthanase all members? And then manage populations so that numbers do not stress out disease ridden 'dispersers' to shed and share the disease which is endemic in them?

Sadly, both farmer and veterinary knowledge is  still  bypassed - [link] as the gravy train rolls on.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Badger Benefit Corps, BBC - at it again.

We are used now to the stream of 'fake news' coming from the UK's self pronounced premier broadcaster. And today is no exception.

An ex chairman of the group charged with examining the badgers culls overseen by Natural England, Professor Ranald Munroe posed a FoI question and received an answer which he then passed to the BBC' Pallab Ghosh.

The startling headline - [link] indicates the 'suffering' of a shot badger, which takes (the report says) 5 minutes to die.


No. Not a bit of it. The protocol written in the NE Bible which shooters on the culls have to follow to the letter, explains what happens after the shot is fired and crucially, the time allowed for this:
"After shooting a badger and in the belief of correct shot placement, regardless of first impressions (unless it is obviously still alive), an assessment needs to be made to confirm that it is dead. A final check for signs of life must be made within 5 minutes of the final shot to that animal and before the animal is bagged up."
That "5 minutes" is in bold font too - it are not ours. But that is what Prof. Munroe has fixated on.

This is the protocol.

 * After discharging his firearm, the shooter's banksman clicks a stopwatch.

 * The shooter then watches the target for at least a minute to check for movement (through telescopic night sights)

 * Then he dons his bio secure TB proof gloves and overalls, and makes his way across often difficult terrain, in the dark, to where the carcase lies.

* He then has a check list of what to look for, including tickling the eye's cornea with a stick, to assure himself the animals is really dead.

 Only then can he give a thumbs up to his banksman, who stops the clock.

So the 5 minutes mentioned in bold, and thoroughly misrepresented, is not the time it takes a shot badger to die. It is the time is takes the shooter, jumping through all these hoops, to ascertain that death has occurred. And that is quite different.

 The rest is mischief.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Wales is bleeding

The situation of zoonotic Tuberculosis in Wales, is not only a national disgrace, it was totally avoidable.


(Apologies - blogger doesn't like the video link, so it's added as a URL  Click the link below to view)

The instigator of this carnage, having done a spectacular U turn on her proposed badger cull, is CVO, Christianne Glossop. Pictured above, the lady had it right in her 2010 video clip, but these are comments she would now rather forget.

On the video, She gave a   stunning overview -[video link] of her plans to eradicate TB in Wales. And then reneged on them, in favour of more brutal cattle measures and vaccination of badgers. 

Beginning two years ago, by signing farmers up for 'Enhanced Measures' the Welsh Assembly Government's hatchet squad have set about decimating the cattle population, while admitting that they do not have the resources to even begin to tackle the wildlife testing regime which was supposed to run parallel to it.

This is studiously ignoring documented historical evidence, which we quoted from the CVO reports for England in this posting. - [link] Only when action was taken against resident badgers, did the incidence of cattle TB begin to drop 1972 - 76. But no amount of carnage, testing and bio security even made a dent.

So we set out below the stories of some family farms now affected in South Wales. Presently one third of cattle farms in the area are under restriction.

The first breakdown for one family dairy herd was 2004: the farm would lose a few cattle, subsequently go clear, often over the winter housing period, only to fail again when the cattle grazed.

From June 2006, no bought in cattle entered this particular herd, which was protected from neighbours by double fencing and had its own slurry spreaders.

For the milking herd to remain at around 150 animals, the owners decided to use expensive sexed semen to enable them to breed their own replacements from the very best cows in the herd and a decision was made to buy no cattle in at all.

So this farm has operated a completely closed herd, for the last thirteen years.

In late 2017 another breakdown restricted the farm, and after 18 months of testing and slaughter, the APHA vets told the farmers that their cattle would be subject to 'Enhanced Measures'. This meant that all cattle would be tested under severe interpretation every two months, and all animals over 6 months blood tested annually.
Although a risk assessment form would have been filled out for this breakdown, APHA declined to inspect or map the badger setts on the farm, even though farmers involved in these 'Enhanced measures' had been given the impression that badger control, (trap test and remove any positives) would be part and parcel of the programme.

 Due to limited resources (for badgers at least) only a very few farms (6 ?) are enrolled in testing badgers. One third of farms in the area are under TB restriction at the time of writing and along this valley over 600 reactor cattle have been slaughtered..

Early this year, the farm tested under these measures, and 21 animals failed. Of those, 9 were pregnant, two due to calve within the month. Following a meeting with APHA, the case officers (having refused before) did inspect the badger sets on the farm, finding one rotten carcase within 300m of the farm buildings. There was evidence of considerable badger activity, including latrines, runs and sets.

The farmer was assured that his case would be put forward for the promised badger sampling. To date this has not happened, and in last month a further test at severe interpretation revealed another 30 cattle to be shot. Eighteen of these were confirmed as pregnant.
It may be pertinent here, to remind readers that when a heavily pregnant cow is shot, her calf can take up to ten minutes for its placental blood supply to fail, and for it to die. During that time, it will kick, adding greatly to the distress suffered by cattle owners of seeing a lifetime's work destroyed before their eyes.

Currently, the milking herds on some of these farms have been reduced by almost half, some farmers have received no written action plan and on many farms, no one has trapped or tested any badgers due to 'lack of resources'.

Those same lack of resources mean that the blood tests (Gamma ifn / IDEXX) have not yet been carried out on cattle either. But that is no bad thing, as the blood tests have a false positive rate said ( optimistically in our opinion) to be around 5 per cent, and if they are instigated, that means another bunch of cattle for the chop, the vast majority of which will be NVL (No visible Lesions).

In the year to April 2019, Christianne Glossop and her gang of hit men (and women) have diligently stuck to their guns and shot 12,000 reactor cattle. However, from their recent report - [link] we read that just 26 badgers may have suffered the same fate, using a penside test (DPP) with only 55.3 per cent sensitivety.

 The badgers released but subsequently testing +ve to laboratory screening of their bloods, were not recaptured again. Well that's just great then isn't it? Ten days to shoot a pregnant reactor cow confined in isolation, on a severe interpretation of the skin test or gamma bloods, but release badgers which subsequently were found to be +ve for zTB? And vaccinate them into the bargain ?

And the cost to the taxpayer of that exercise in futility? £395,802. 10

 Our co editor and many veterinary pathologists (although obviously not Ms. Glossop) have pointed out that as badger densities increase and with them, the opportunity to spread the disease that is endemic within them, by taking a brutal line with cattle which may have met the challenge - and fought it off, we are leaving an very 'naive' population of cattle to face an increasingly contaminated environmental challenge. Madness.

 Finally, this week's Farmers Weekly Opinion piece - [link] by Will Evans hits the nail on the head.

Will points out that 19 per cent rise in cattle slaughterings to April 2019 as evidence of farmers' co operation with the zTB programme. And describing current policy as 'dreadfully wrong',  he calls for the Welsh Assembly Government to face up to its responsibilities and control the disease in badgers.

We agree. And would point out that Ms. Glossop's legacy will not be the outcome of that video she would rather forget, but the picture below.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Uncompensated costs of a TB breakdown

We have spoken of the effects of zoonotic Tuberculosis (zTB) in depth on this blog, but rarely have we touched on the little 'extras - link that farmers have to accommodate while under restriction. These are side effects, uncompensated for and unwelcome.
We listed them on the posting linked to above, but will do so again as in the years since we wrote the list, many things may have changed - and not for the better.

 * Testing cattle 4 - 6 times / year instead of once (or as directed by Defra). 2 days per week x 6 = 12 days labour for up to 4 people.  Adding up to 300 hours / year.

 * Gamma ifn used in non veterinary circumstances, and regularly requiring retests. Gamma tests are not tied in with skin tests and may delay their usefulness.

 * Stress on cattle during confinement and testing. Weight loss on beef cattle, and growing dairy heifers is estimated at about 7 - 10 days each time tested. Six / eight weeks loss of growth in a year.

 * Abortions and early embryonic death in pregnant cattle after testing.

 * Loss of her calf and breeding value of a slaughtered pregnant cow.

 * Extended calving index for dairy herds and barren suckler cows. Herd genetic losses.

 * Trauma and even death to animals resisting penning and needles. Suckler calves particularly at risk.

 * Injuries to stockmen / vets involved in handling these cattle.

 * Slaughter of unsaleable calves costing £15 - £17.50 head to knackerman. ** (see below)

 * Sale but at much reduced price of calves, under licence to avoid shooting. Now mandatory under welfare rules and pressure from milk processors. (see below)

 * No sale for store or breeding stock or newly calved dairy/beef heifers/ bulls except under very limited Defra license system and often at much reduced prices.

* Compensation for animals bought in under license to a herd under restriction, which subsequently become reactors, halved.

* No licensed 'On' movements until at least one herd test completed after a breakdown. Leaves a gap in fattening units' cash flow.

 * No entries into Agricultural Shows or specialist sales for exceptional breeding stock.

 * Cancellation of farm sales, extended farm tenancies and retirement planning in tatters.

 * Overstocking on home (Tb restricted) holding, extra cattle need extra food, bedding and even housing.

 * Conversely, loss of volume and profile bonuses on level milk payments from milk buyers. Can be substantial amounts.

 * Replacement stock, especially with organic, rare or endangered breeds of cattle - unavailable.

 * Bio security risks of bringing in replacement cattle from other herds to a 'closed herd' under restriction.

 * Insurance premiums for Tb up ten fold, with cover reduced by half for existing policies. In the event of a breakdown, cover will not be re instated, and new policies as rare as hens' teeth. 'Exposure to risk is too great', the man said. Most livestock farmers now un-insurable for zTb.

 *Sales of 'green top milk' or unpasteurised cheeses / yoghurts - banned. Product in store destroyed.

 * Sales of all raw milk into food chain from 'reactor animals' - banned. Disposal - difficult.

 So what has prompted this reminder of the uncompensated costs of a TB breakdown?

Many farmers who have experienced a breakdown in the last few years will have received a letter, inviting them to quantify these uncompensated costs. The project partners include Defra, Apha, Welsh Assembly Government, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh (SRUC) and assorted data processors.

 One of our main contributors receiving this letter is in the middle of a nightmare restriction, involving the different arms of Apha which have yet to find a way of communicating with each other, let alone the farmer concerned. And so was keen to let rip - until he read on in his letter that the breakdown SRUC were investigating was in October 2014.

Now I don't know about most of our readers, but events last week sometimes pass me by, so almost 5 years ago??? Seriously?

 Nevertheless, he dutifully put a price on the extra labour for testing, pedigree animals sold on the hook instead of for breeding and many of the other 'advantages' of TB restriction we have listed above. There was also an opportunity to add extra comments, which you will be unsurprised to learn, he added with a vengeance. Especially the brutal wording of some Defra phone calls and letters.

** What else has changed in more recent times, is pressure from Farm Assurance desk jockeys and some milk buyers re the disposal of surplus calves from a dairy herd under restriction. Defra have kindly made existing calf isolation units pretty nearly unworkable, and new ones difficult to licence.
Once in one of these units, any animal remains in the slaughter-only system for its lifetime (Finishing Units only) and cannot be sold on the open market, further reducing its value.

Do dairy farms stack them up? double-decker calf units maybe?

We also have that EU Directive - [link] coming in on 21st April 2021, and applying both to 'third countries' or Member states, which gives the Union the powers to ban products from any country which they deem to be a risk. And that we most certainly are.

With disparate groups of farmers trying to chase badgers for 42 nights annually and catch around 70 per cent of them, while all the above rain down on our cattle and restricted farms, 365 days a year.

And in Wales, the situation is even worse, with vaccination having taken the place of a proposed cull. This despite the fact that four separate trials in two countries have vaccinated badgers - [link] ( pre screened ones too) and as far as numbers of cattle breakdowns were concerned, achieved absolutely nothing. Zilch.

Your contributor inquired of the questioner operating this latest survey, as to its purpose.

"To help shape future TB policy" was the answer.

Well that would be a first. Defra have no policy - [link] regarding zTB apart from dreaming up more imaginative ways of reducing our cattle population. Their collective heads remain firmly in the sand on eradicating the disease we know as zoonotic Tuberculosis from any other source.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Update on Geronimo.

We told you the background of a very expensive New Zealand alpaca, imported in 2017 in this posting - [link]

After twice testing clear of zTB in his country of origin, this animal tested positive in the UK, and thus began his owner's fight against authority.

But after a High Court hearing, Devon Live reports that Geronimo - [link] has lost the battle.

Another casualty of Defra's non policy of the eradication of zoonotic Tuberculosis.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

'Owning the problem'.

I don't know about you (our readers) but your editors are seething after reading the headline of Farmers Guardian - [link] this week.  In our posting below, we explained that after fifteen long years of banging our collective heads against the proverbial, we had decided to call it a day, leaving this website up as a monument to stupidity. And then we read the headlines of the FG.

In 2007, we reported  the 'Trojan Horse' - [link] factor of zTB control, proposed by John Bourne, when he explained that he would allow farmers to shoot a few badgers, if that went hand in hand with extensive and increasingly brutal cattle controls which he said, would bring the epidemic under control.

And this is exactly what is happening now, a decade after it was proposed. But we digress - the Farmers Guardian this week, reporting on yet another conference on zoonotic Tuberculosis explains:
"Farmers have been urged to ‘take ownership’ of bovine TB control after a survey revealed 70 per cent of those in the high risk area (HRA) have not undertaken any activity to improve their biosecurity on-farm."
(By that, the author of that remark means keeping grossly infected wildlife away from grazing cattle.)

And that headline is some statement. And in many cases - especially those of our contributors - wildly inaccurate.

So take the situation on one of your editors' farms. A closed herd with no bought in cattle, no neighbouring cattle farms touching boundaries and good bio security, but it suffered a 5 year breakdown.

The cost to the cattle - 53 dead. The cost to the taxpayer? Testing every 60 days instead of annually plus compensation for the aforementioned dead cattle. The cost to the farmer in terms of stress and hassle? - immeasurable.

Roll forward to this year, and the cattle measures imposed after the signing of cull contracts, - [link] continue to rain down 365 days / year, while farmers are allowed under very strict circumstances to chase 70 per cent of badgers in a small, well defined area around for just  42 nights and trap / shoot what they can, while paying up front for that privilege.

How is that 'farmers taking ownership' of zoonotic Tuberculosis? And where is Defra's responsibility in all this fiasco which began in 1997 with that moratorium on the culling badgers 'to stop the spread of disease'?  (Protection of Badgers Act. Section 10 (2 a) )

These were parish breakdowns in 1986 - when we were almost clear of TB as a country. The 'Clean Ring' system operated and badger groups were destroyed within a 7km radius of a confirmed outbreak in cattle.

Around 1982, underground euthansia was replaced by cage traps and the land available to the MAFF operatives reduced from 7km to just 1km, and then only on land which cattle had grazed.

Incidence of TB in sentinel tested cattle rose.


Cattle controls and testing increased, and in 1997 a moratorium was placed on the section of the Protection of Badgers Act which allowed for culling 'to prevent the spread of disease'.

Thus no badgers were culled for this reason at all. None.

And after two decades of prevarication this was the result.

Fast forward to current non-policy, and Zoning the country hasn't worked either, with wildlife spreading disease beyond the ever moving 'Edge area' into so called Low risk counties.

Where badger culls are in progress, incidence is dropping, but slowly. And last year,  GB shot 44,000 cattle. That is appalling. Absolutely appalling and bloody disgrace to all involved in keeping this fiasco going.

The architect of this latest rubbish reported in the Farmers Guardian, is one James Russell, a BCVA representative, who while no doubt trousering a considerable largesse for increased testing of our sentinel cattle, would do well to look back at the impact these brutal, - [link] extortionately expensive and futile cattle measures had on disease incidence in the past.

 Mr Russell may also benefit from taking a glance at our parliamentary Questions, lobbied 15 long years ago now, and see the unequivocal reply to the success of the Thornbury badger cull.
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]
It's that simple. And any amount of keeping cattle in hermetically sealed boxes does not solve the problem of grossly infected badgers, piddling over grassland, maize crops and anything else cattle are asked to consume either directly or ensiled.

And neither will chasing them around on just 42 nights out of 365, scattering social groups while not knowing if those destroyed are infected, infectious or not. 

Mr. Russell got one thing correct when he is reported to have said:
"We are up against a bug which has adapted and evolved to survive inside its host without killing it, and it is excreted in the millions every day."
But what Mr. Russell did not say is that the most successful host of this bug, which can maintain its body weight, rear cubs annually (and infect them) and live for up to 8 years, is the badger. Not cattle, tested and shot, which are a spillover host.

In fact £2.8 million - [link] was thrown at trying to prove that cattle were a maintenance host of zTuberculosis. And after thousands of samples taken, even from cattle with lung lesions, not one was capable of onwards transmission. Not a single one.

 So yet another another straw man - [link] rears its head, and once again it's down to cattle farmers. All our fault.

Or are we seeing, as John Bourne suggested, and so eagerly grabbed by the industry leaders, a largely untargeted and disparate badger cull, while accepting on our behalf, the cattle measures and culling which have failed so spectacularly in the past? A Trojan Horse indeed.

Farmers cannot 'own' the problem of z Tuberculosis while those who have most to say, have not a single thing to lose.

So we are minded to repeat the words of the fragrant Dr. Chris Cheeseman, late of Badger Heaven Woodchester Park, who, on several occasions when addressing farmers about biosecurity in the proximity of his chosen species, was asked how to keep cattle healthy, safe and secure.

His answer which drew gasps from his audience, was pretty straightforward. He said:
"You can't. You get rid of your cattle ".

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Natural England / Defra - How to kill a cull?

It is now 15 years since those 500 Parliamentary Questions lobbed at the then Secretary of State for DEFRA were collated and their answers posted to form the basis for this site.

 It is much longer than that since our co editors and contributors, farmers and vets took a keen interest in the UK's Governmental inaction on their statutory responsibility to eradicate a Grade zoonotic pathogen from its wildlife maintenance reservoir in an ever expanding population of Eurasian badgers.

We've seen history - [link] repeat itself in ever more stringent cattle controls, while infected, over protected wildlife are left to die in our fields, spreading their deadly load as the totter along to that great sett in the sky.

 A sort of badger cull, based on a very shaky premise began in 2013: it was run by farmers, funded by farmers and overseen by the most unhelpful agency - [link] Defra could ever have appointed. It struggled in the face of media antagonism, criminal damage and personal harassment, all totally ignored by the desk jockeys in a London centric Defra.

No-one mentioned the zoonotic pathogen itself and the battleground was drawn: badgers v. cattle.

Farmers were on their own, trying to reverse thirty years - [link] of government inaction.

Roll forward to this spring, our fifteenth anniversary. And Tony Juniper - [link] described as an 'eco-warrier', a new face at unNatural England lost no time in revoking licences - [link] for corvid control.

This at a critical time for farmers lambing their sheep, arable crops being planted to feed us all and smaller, less high profile bird species nesting. Poster boy - [link] Chris Packham received an OBE.

But hard on the heels of that debacle comes a second challenge to licensing by the same crew, and that is to once again tweak badger cull license conditions. Having given way on this one once, with the use of the most unspecific blood test - [link] for zTB ever dreamt up, dependent not on veterinary expertise, but a signature scribbled on a contract two years ago, the NFU are scrabbling to accommodate this latest onslaught.

 Farmers Guardian reports:
The judicial review, brought by ecologist Tom Langton*, claimed badger culling was increasing fox populations and, therefore, threatening ground nesting birds with protected status. In order to collect more data on fox numbers in cull areas, NE has requested all cull companies provide records of historical fox control in 2017 and 2018. It has also demanded information on current fox control practices within miles 1.24 miles (2km) of sites where ground nesting birds are listed as features of special interest.
* Tom Langton - [link] - another eco warrier - his background.

The NFU's Tom Rabbetts offered this placatory gem:
When the cull companies were set up, this was certainly not a requirement.

They have not recorded this data and they do not have access to every person controlling foxes in the area.

You could be in a situation where you have to go to 100 or more farmers to try to find out the level of fox control on each farm.

To do it in any single year is hard, but to try to backdate the information is even harder.
That is missing the point, Tom. Those contracts had two party signatories: they were a legally binding document and one side has retrospectively set about tweaking those conditions.

We came across this with the addition of gamma interferon, (see above) however ridiculous that was, and with no veterinary oversight to the farm situation. It faced no challenge and a precedent was set.

Because of these fiascoes, there is talk of farmers not signing up to new cull areas and with retrospective demands, now withdrawing from culls already begun. So having opposed badger culling in the face of disease since 1997, Defra and its love affair with celebrity lobby cash have discovered another way to trash their responsibilities.

After a month of inaction, the corvid row is still rumbling in the bowels of unNatural England, with only three species offered specific individual complicated licenses and a deafening silence on the rest.
And now as Defra leave the cull companies hung out to dry, this latest fiasco further destroys any semblance of trust or co operation with the Ministry known as the Destruction of  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or its agencies.

 So sadly, this site will now shut up shop and stop posting. Fifteen years is enough. We've tried to open up discussions and offer insights into past success and past failures in TB control world wide.
We also supported targeted culling of diseased badgers, playing no small part in a £1m grant to develop tools to do just that. We failed.

To our contributors we say, our grateful thanks and to our readers, the best of luck.