Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hermetically sealed boxes for dairy cows .....

... and beef cows to decorate the landscape?

A suggestion from Professor Charles Godfray, from Oxford University, who delivered the prestigious annual Bledisloe Memorial Lecture at the Royal Agricultural University, in Cirencester, last week. is that dairy cows be housed 24/7 to protect them from infected badgers, while beef cattle should graze, to add to the landscape value.

It's not April 1st. and  Farmers Guardian - [link] reports his suggestion thus:
Farmers should consider keeping more cattle indoors to protect them against bovine TB (bTB) infection where the disease is being spread by badgers, a leading academic specialising in food and farming has suggested.
That is not so daft as it sounds, as we reported last year, in this posting - [link] where a restock herd of dairy cattle were 'incarcerated' - but safe. And regularly, it is noted that cattle herds will test clear in the winter, as cattle are housed away from pasture (and providing feed stores and access points to buildings are badger proofed) only to fail skin tests after a summer of grazing, 'au naturale'.

 But now an Oxford academic, whose claim to fame in 2005 was a paper on the sex life of yeast, (Goddard, M.R., Godfray, H.C.J. & Burt, A. 2005 Sex increases the efficiency of natural selection in experimental yeast populations. Nature 434, 636-640) wants to rearrange the life of Britain's cattle herds, to suit infected badgers? Professor Godfray's  speciality appears to be the  biological control of parasites in insects. He is a parasitologist. We suppose he could broaden his scope to include other, larger parasites? 

 Seriously, have we gone stark, staring berluddy mad?
"I think there are some really interesting questions about the way we farm and the way we manage land in the west of the country,” said Professor Godfray.
Interesting maybe, but missing the point of 1:3 tractor free slopes and wonderful grassland which supports grazing animals but not machinery, he also pointed out that:
The mixture of pasture and woodland where many cattle graze in the west of England was an ideal breeding ground for worms, which in turn, creates perfect conditions for badgers.

“There are higher densities of badgers in the west country at the moment than ever before,” Prof Godfray said.

“We like to farm in a particular way. We could farm in other ways. You could bring more dairy cattle indoors in larger facilities so they can be protected from badgers. You could still have beef cattle out so the landscape would not look different.”
Obviously other grazing mammals succumbing to 'badger' tuberculosis have failed to cross the good Professor's radar. Or perhaps we should house them all? Alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, deer, bison - a modern day Noah's Ark.  And then farmers could run badger sanctuaries, as a diversification.

And when the eminent gentleman said 'housing' of dairy cattle, as Ken Wignall points out in his brilliant  cartoon to illustrate this bovine fantasia, we don't think he meant, errr ' farm house housing'.

Or perhaps he did?

(Ken Wignall's cartoon appeared in Farmers Guardian, December 5th. and we reproduce it with thanks.)  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The 'right' sort of scientific consensus? - Nudge.

In an article for the Western Morning News this week, Anthony Gibson, - [link] former SW regional director, then reincarnated as press officer for the National Farmers Union, has apparently nudged back into the NFU fold, describing a conference at which, from his dialogue, he was not present.

 Illustrated with a library picture of a shiny badger, Gibson's piece is a mass of contradictions. But given a  Nudge Farmers Under hymn sheet from which to sing, and despite a totally guesstimated model presented by Ian Boyd which we described in this post - [link] he's sung to it very obediently and in tune.

He explains:
.... we do need to achieve a scientific consensus as to how and why the infection spreads if we are ever to achieve political agreement on action to prevent it. To that extent, any consensus is better than none, even a consensus with which very many farmers might feel profoundly uncomfortable – always provided the scientists are right, of course,...[ although that is another story]."
"Any consensus is better than none?" Whaaaaat? You cannot be serious.

And if these desk jockeys are not 'right'?

And if they are completely unaware that the data they require to formulate policy given proven risk, particularly before making such wild statements, is actually collated daily within their own departments?

Who is going to tell them? Is anyone going to point that out?
Not Nudge. They can always rely on Nudge.

 The Nudge Farmers Under group will always do exactly as their masters tell them. Dissent is not permitted.

Thus we have a group of over qualified people, (but not a single epidemiologist) faithfully worshipping a model created with guesses. Estimates.

 Assumed data, not the actual figures which are  available for every new TB breakdown.

And telling us quite sincerely, that up to 94 per cent  of outbreaks are down to cattle?

Although it may be 100 per cent badger related. Wonderful. And they call that 'science' ?

Gibson continued, observing quite correctly that:
"Of course, no such official foot-dragging is evident when it comes to cattle controls. In that context, the prospect offered by the conference was of ever-more tests and ever-tighter restrictions, without anything being done – quite possibly not even the continuation of the pilot culls – to cut off the flow of disease from infected badger setts."
Quite. But in the whole disgraceful, sycophantic diatribe, that was the only bit he did get correct.

And predictably, he failed to mention documented data of those who had previously attempted these drastic 'cattle only' measures, now proposed. Thus history - [link] is likely to repeat itself on a grand scale with similarly ignominious and expensive results..

But hey,  when Government says jump, Nudge says  "how high"?

Disgracefully, what Gibson omitted to mention (while polishing some Nudge egos), is that the NFU appears to have done absolutely nothing to avail their Conference speakers of information relating to the circumstances leading to the TB breakdowns of their members, most of whom, according to recorded SVS / AH data, did not fit Boyds' model.
And that is unforgivable.

Thus there is nothing at all to prevent the scenario which we described last year - [link]

But somehow that is a good outcome?

For whom?

Not farmers, not cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs, bison, deer, goats, cats and dogs. And not badgers.

If you remember, last year, Defra carried out some mind games - [link] giving them the excuse to say that they had 'consulted'. Never mind what was said at these gatherings, the end result would be a heap more dead cattle - [link] - a scenario now apparently supported by the Nudge Farmers Under group which approves a 'consensus'.

The NFU will 'nudge' those pesky farmers along as instructed, one miserable, expensive, ineffective step at a time, and hope they don't put all these miserable barbs together at the same time. That would never do at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Depressingly vague fluff

We have been gathering comments from attendees at the NFU Conference last Monday, which offered presentations from the great and the good, mainly involved with keeping this disgraceful charade going.

The speeches opened with Chief Scientist Ian Boyd, ignoring all the myriad of SVS /AHVLA / APHA's risk assessments on the cause of TB breakdowns, and announcing that the reason for TB problems was in the 'too difficult file', but he'd have a guess.

 Farmers Guardian's political reporter, Alistair Driver quotes him thus:
To the exasperation of many in the room, he [Prof. Boyd] said there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ most of the risk to farms ‘lies from cattle-to-cattle infection’ within herds and from the wider cattle population. He said the proportion varies significantly between areas where badgers are present and quoted a previous speaker’s assertion that the overall estimated proportion of badger transmission lies ‘between 6 and 100 per cent with 50 per cent in the middle’,

“We do not know in any specific circumstance. What we do know is there is a big range of possibilities"
What absolute rubbish. Vague, unsubstantiated, assumption modeled fluff.

No wonder his audience were left gasping. They know, as do we from bitter experience, that each and every breakdown is back traced by Animal Health officers. And has been for decades.

 The results were painstakingly tabulated a decade ago, for presentation to the Killarney Epidemiological Conference - a gathering involving real vets, real scientists and using real data. Not modeled assumptions.

And the result, for a county with one of the highest breakdown rates in the country?

Purchased cattle accounted for just 8 per cent of breakdowns, leaving 76 per cent definitely badgers and 16 per cent probably badgers. So no need for guesses. Just dust off the correct data and read it.

 And it is under those circumstances (no bought in cattle and no cattle contact) that we remind our readers of a salient quote:
"the onus must be on those disputing the role of the badger as a significant reservoir of infection to hypothesise other sources of infection for such herds, especially where when investigated, the majority of badger populations in the area have been found to be infected".
This last snippet, we quote from Dr. Richard Clifton-Hadley's most excellent paper, 'Badgers, Bovine Tuberculosis and the Age of Reason". (British Veterinary Journal - Guest Editorial 1996)

So we find it quite bizarre that Professor Boyd can make such generalised and factually incorrect statements which are gathered and recycled unquestioningly, ignoring the (many) herds which do not fit his hypothesis or computer model, and still call it 'science'.

Little discussion followed Boyd's presentation, which opened with the caveat that only pre screened questions would be allowed. Blood pressure was thus raised a tad among his audience.

As Nigel Gibbens was duck watching in Yorkshire, his colleague Malla Hovi took his slot, with the announcement that 'after consultation, 6 monthly testing would be introduced in Cheshire'.
Ms Hovi said the change, which would help pick up infection more clearly, was being made because the radial system of testing farms around breakdowns was ‘proving too difficult to do’.

She said Defra and APHA had ‘taken the [Cheshire] TB eradication board with us’, which she said had been pushing for it as well as they were prepared for ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’.

But one of the members of the group, Cheshire farmer Bill Mellor, called for better communication, claiming he was unaware of the change, at which point Ms Hovi said it ‘has not been decided yet’.

Later, however, Defra confirmed six-month testing was being introduced in the edge area only of Cheshire.
And speaker after speaker rattled on like a broken train about further cattle controls, oblivious to to the irony of their predecessors valiant attempts - [link] to nail our cattle to the floor, and the ignominious failure - [link] of it all.
And of all these speakers, not a single one was prepared to even mention the elephant in the room. Control of the wildlife reservoir which is at the root of all this country's problems. Although one did mention that Australia had no wildlife reservoir of TB.

And as with many of these unchallenged assertions, this speaker was dead wrong - [link] As our pictures show, 13,000 water buffalo and feral cattle were rounded up by helicopter, corralled and shot.
And that is pest control, big time.

Arch wizard of vaccination -  Mark Chambers gave an overview of vaccination of badgers, remarking that his forays into oral vaccination 'seemed to be safe'. Which is very reassuring given his previous attempts.

And predictably, he omitted to mention his failure, a perfectly healthy badger known as 'D313' - [link] who in a less well publicised trial, in which Chambers was involved, was rendered so infected with tuberculosis that had he been on the loose, he would have been described as a 'super excreter'.

What Chambers did confirm though, was that in this project where vaccinated badgers were exposed to m.bovis and postmortemed, all had lesions and all were shedding.
And when the product license was applied for, on the basis of 'doing no harm' rather than efficacy, we assume D313 was airbrushed? 

But no one wanted to go anywhere near the possibility that these specimens, (this badger on the left had tuberculous pleurisy) were in any way responsible for the deaths of thousands of cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, cats and dogs.

Neither did they mention that around half the badgers (43 - 52 per cent) in areas of endemic Tuberculosis were now infected with this dreadful disease.

All they wanted was more testing, more dead cattle and more controls. And we'll pay.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Peasant Farmer's guide to Anti-speke.

Badger Cull-Support our Farmers


A really helpful glossary of commonly used terms translated from the 'antidrivel' by our resident peasant for the benefit of the confused. Do please feel free to cut out and keep this useful guide.

Badger:- God's greatest creation, superior to every other creature in the entire universe. Blessed with the most adorable stripey little snub-nosed face, and believed to be entirely vegan apart from nibbling on the occasional suicidal earthworm. All badgers will eventually pass away peacefully of old age (apart from those tragically flattened by horrid cars), surrounded by their grieving families and soothed by specially composed Brian May laments.

Wildlife:- this in fact means 'badger', as in 'This government is intent on wiping out Britain's wildlife'.

Murder:- erroneously believed to mean one human unlawfully killing another, this does in fact mean cruel humans killing darling badgers.

Genocide:- see 'Murder'. And do keep up.

Pest Control:- Totally acceptable eradication of rodents from your child's school, or the supermarket, or the local chippie. This is because these creatures spread disease, do massive amounts of damage and are not adorably stripey. Any old method is fine, just get rid of the horrid feckers, now.

Biosecurity:- a lovely scientific sounding word which makes the most suburban and fluffy of anti-cullers feel as if they know what they're talking about. Apparently it's something to do with keeping nasty cattle away from darling badgers.

Anecdotal evidence:- a soothing expression conveniently used to dismiss a fact which you do not want to be true. A classic example of this is 'The latest culls have already resulted in many farms in the cull zones testing clear.'

Trophic Cascade:- no, not a heavy rock band from the seventies, but another wonderfully soothing concept which suggests that having all their eggs constantly destroyed by foraging wildlife (qv) is actually really beneficial to skylarks. Frequently used by the more pompous anti-cullers, this one can be filed under 'bullshit baffles brains'.

Tuberculosis:- A minor ailment, shamefully used as an excuse to 'murder wildlfe' (qv).

So there we have it. Never let it be said that this wonderful page is not educational.

More on Facebook on this link - [link] 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Halloween news.

A catch up of this week's news.

Announced on the 29th October,  the Court of Appeal challenge to culling badgers by shooting, launched by the Badger Trust, which we described earlier in October - [link] was unsuccessful.
As we pointed out in that posting, why the Badger Trust should be getting in such a lather about shooting a few hundred badgers in two small areas where cattle tests are indicating endemic tuberculosis in badgers, when Germany shoots 66,000 annually with apparently no problems, is a mystery.

But then if zTB was solved in their chosen species, their publicity income would dry up overnight.
Farmers Guardian - [link] reports the judgement.

And South West farmer, Anton Coaker - [link] explains in his own inimitable way, the logistics of gathering his cattle for a routine TB test.
There seems to be this assumption within Defra that it’s OK to make us run the cattle through the race again and again. After all, they’re all neatly grazing in the 10-acre paddock next to the farmstead... surely?

Well they aren’t, and it definitely not all right, buster.

Quite apart from the obvious labour and logistics, we’ve had to watch the weather forecast days in advance, with fallback plans on how to get various groups across rivers which go from “easily fordable” to “raging frothing widow-makers” in the space of about two hours.

Two groups might have had to be walked three miles around to a road bridge, which you don’t do on the morning of the test. In the event, we saw a window, got them back safely, and are holding them on the precious in-bye. While we’ve had leave to postpone the furthest forest cows for another month, everything else had to be gathered and failure would lead to the kind of Draconian fines we could scarce afford. It’s insidious State bullying.
Anton also has views on Badgerists, and also taking pot shots at badgers.

And after describing his week's work, gathering in cattle from the wilds of Dartmoor, he comes full circle to:
.... the whole can of “badger cull” worms.

Despite the ongoing misery TB is causing us, and the wildlife, the combined ranks of the badgerists are doing everything they can possibly think of to prevent anyone from prematurely killing any badgers. Clutching at straws, they pick holes in anything to do with the cull.

For my part, I strongly disagree with the method being used, preferring to see infected setts identified and gassed.

But I accept that the badgerists have driven us to this extreme place. We have to show that killing some badgers makes TB better. And by golly, they must be in a tailspin with news starting to leak out of the cull zones.

Farms which have been down for years are now testing clean again, hedgehogs are breeding successfully once more, and most embarrassing for the RSPB – which is vehemently opposed to the cull – ground-nesting birds are suddenly rearing young again.
Read the full story on the link above. Anton's article was published in the Western Morning News Oct 30th. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New link added.

We are pleased to add a link to Gloucestershire farmer David Barton's - [link] poignant blog which tells the story of his herd, his continual testing, his cattle deaths and his frustration.

This young cow one of his latest casualties.

Meanwhile timely advice from the SW TB Advisory service - [link] to secure your buildings.

 There is a video on the link showing these vermin wonderful creatures exploring your yards, milking parlours and feed stores while you sleep.

And AHVLA, now recycled with 'Plants' added and many Veterinary Laboratories decommissioned, are known as APHA; and they  have updated their advice on gaps which badgers can slither through or under.

This is now reduced from 10cm to 7.5cm. In old money, that's from 4" down to just under 3".

 Did we say we'd need hermetically sealed boxes for TB free cattle? You bet we did. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Yes you can, no you can't?

This week, the farming industry is awaiting yet another High Court decision - [link] on whether (or not) to cull badgers to control the spread of zTuberculosis.

After winning a case in August (with no right of appeal) the Badger Trust won the right to appeal the judgement in September and the case was heard last week. No, we couldn't work that one out either.

Farmers Guardian reported it thus:
A key legal judgment that could have profound implications for the roll out of the badger cull policy in England is likely to be delivered soon.
The arguments seem to hinge on Independent assessments of the humaneness - or otherwise - of shooting this animal. And not a little input has been heard from members of last years' 'independent' panel, trying to comply with the protocol - [link] dreamed up by NE and this year overseen by them and APHA.

 To make sense of that alphabet soup, NE are Natural England, who hold the competence for licensing any badger culls and APHA are the newly formed Animal and Plant Health Agency.

So we are happy to remind readers of  a badger cull which occurs annually in Germany and which we briefly mentioned here - [link].  The screen grab below is part of a larger pdf which details the numbers of badgers shot in Germany over the last decade. 

 Between August and October, badgers may be shot in Germany if they cause damage to land, buildings property or persons.

And last year, 66, 579 were shot, without causing offence  (or employment?) to anyone at all.

pdf file shown courtesy of BovineTb Information.-[link] and the full version can be viewed here - [link]