Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Capricorn. Cattle Defender, Protector and Guardian?

Our Northern correspondant, Matthew 2 has recollected for us a tale of 'biological warfare', waged by his father on tuberculous badgers prior to the Ministry clearances in 1953. He tells us that in the late 1930's and 40's it was common to run a goat (preferably a Billy) with a herd of cattle "to protect them" from badgers, and as a child can remember his father doing just that. He also remembers that their cattle did not get Tb.

The theory is that the goat would do what goats are famous for and kick seven bells out of any 'intruder' into the grazing area occupied by 'his' cattle. (Defra vets, RPA eartag inspectors, animal activists with wire cutters? We like that!!) In short, he would act as a the herd's guardian, sentinel, and protector.

We've heard of this tale in connection with the 'protection' of sheep flocks, where a goat (or an alpaca) has been introduced to deter foxes, badgers and dogs at lambing time, but how feasible is it in the context of disease control?

Imagine dear readers, Defra vets wearing 'green biological warfare' suits, (disposable, and complying with EU Waste Management rules of course - last seen when their occupants were slaughtering millions of cattle in FMD) delivering (Tb tested) goats onto cattle farms. It would be popular with Captain 'Birdseye' Ben, (please note, not 'Rear Admiral' Ben- some of our more imaginative readers seem to have a strange aversion to the Fisheries minister's nickname) who having been paid by the PAL piper, does not have to mention the word' badger' in the same breath as 'tuberculosis'. But what of this sorry, suffering creature? Well in the face of Capricorn on the warpath, his territory would be severely curtailed, his foraging limited and his numbers drastically cut. In short, as with Bradshaw's 'Fence them out' biosecurity advice, he starves.
And nobody gets their hands dirty.

Anything's got to be better than deluging the cattle farms with standstill notices, slaughter forms and endless 60 day '007' tests - who's going to get shot this month dearie? Defra's own predictions involve running up a bill with the Treasury of £2 billion over 10 years, doing absolutely nothing about the exposure of not only cattle but deer, domestic pets and ramblers to - tuberculosis.

Bring on the goats?


cornwallbadgers said...

Fed up with these two posters who seem to think all is rosy in he farming industry?

Have a look at www.fawc.org.uk to find out more about what really goes on.

Matthew said...

FAWC = Farm Animal Welfare Council, set up by government as an advisory group in 1979.

'All is rosy in the farming industry'? Not when your cattle are under restriction with Tb its not.

Can't see where FAWC have 'lobbied' on the health and welfare of UK badgers - have we missed something?

Matthew said...

Sorry readers, 'Blogger', said it hadn't posted the comment, when it had - 3x.

Nice to have comments from the badger lobby (cornwallbadgers) Have a look at 'Beneficial Crisis' on this site. There's a whole industry dependant and parasitic on keeping cattle farmers and the badger groups apart.

The 6 farmers who manage this site want to see healthy badgers - not no badgers, and not sick badgers.
Matt 5

Harriet said...


You bunch of hypercritical farmers make me sick. If you'd take your heads out of the slurry pit for a minute you might just realise that bTB has nothing to do with badgers and everything to do with bovines. (Bovine means cow in case you didn't know)
Badgers have been scapegoated by the farming lobby for years - perhaps you are just too afraid to admit that the current bTB epidemic is YOUR fault.
Cattle are kept in dank, filthy sheds, grazed in fields knee-deep in mud, pumped full of hormones and drugs, transported great distances to slaughter, treated like industrial milk/meat machines - is it any wonder they catch diseases???
(NB I have witnessed the above conditions first hand)
Farmers - the Guardians of the Countryside? I dont think so!

Get your act together and leave our wildlife alone - If anything needs culling it's you.

Matthew said...

How sad.

All the information on this site, from conservationists, ecologists, veterinarians, micro biologists as well as family farmers, organic farmers, wildlife trust members and the county's top badger experts.
And 'Harriet' has missed the lot.

cornwallbadgers said...

We're probably wasteing 'our breath' here as we should all realise that 'farmers know best'.
The best thing aboutb this site seems to be that it doesn't draw many visitors!
Regarding the FAWC, would anyone expect that they would lobby on the health and welfare of badgers? They aren't farm animals! As mathew points out FAWC = Farm Animal Welfare Council

My point is that bovine TB is but one relatively small issue regarding the health and welfare of cattle. I appreciate though that bTB has implication as for trade both locally and internationally.

But hey, if everything is so rosy in the livestock industry one wonders why the government bothered to set up the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and why this body is so critical of health and welfare standards on many farms.

Certainly the average milk yield of cattle is probably higher than it has ever been - due no doubt to modern farming practices.

According to Dairy Facts and Figures 1997, "the annual milk yield per cow in Holstein/Friesian herds has risen from an average of 4,970 litres in 1986 to 5,515 litres in 1996".

However, Farmers Weekly reported in 2002 that , "Mastitis just won't go away. Despite success in reducing overall mastitis and somatic cell counts by many producers, environmental mastitis remains a problem throughout the UK".

In the previous year, the same journal reported that 95 per cent of UK cattle herds were infected with bovine viral diarrhoea virus.

Joe Browlie, of the Royal Veterinary College said that although it was considered a mild infection, it could disable calves' immune systems making them more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia. Unfortunately, there are numerous other documented animal health problems associated with livestock production.

When people are badly housed, poorly nourished and stressed they become susceptible to the human form of TB. Perhaps intensively farmed livestock become more susceptible to disease for similar reasons - or are badgers to blame?

In biblical times, the sins of the people were laid on a "scapegoat" - is this to be the fate of our badgers today?

Very few would consider them to be a "perfect cuddly creature", but for many the badger is a respected member of what little remains of our native wildlife.

Many farmers share this view.

Harriet said...

I've just read what I posted last night. I feel I ought to add that I have no problem with organic, wildlife friendly, arable farmers.

If the Government invested the time and money currently wasted on the pointless badger cull into vaccine research and improving welfare conditions on farms that would go a long way towards solving the problem of bTB.

However, it's hard to have any sympathy with farmers on outbreak farms. They earn a living from the systematic, industrial-scale abuse of animals. I can remember all too well the crocodile tears shed by many farmers during the Foot and Mouth epidemic. "All our poor animals have to be culled, sob, sob"
They never mentioned the fact that these "poor animals" were destined for the slaughterhouse anyway. Those farmers were crying for one simple reason - they were worried about losing money - the ONLY thing they care about.

Many farmers would love to see a countryside free of wildlife altogether. One actually told me so! It's a "lets kill anything we can't profit from" philosophy.

Farmers, constantly moaning about their problems, DO NOT deserve our sympathy. Instead we should stand up for the billions of farm animals killed every year so people can satisfy their blood-thirsty desire for flesh. We must fight to save the wildlife of this country before the farmers have their way and it is all gone.

Long Live Badgers!!!

Matthew said...

We'd echo that. Long live HEALTHY badgers - and everything else that co exists in our wonderful countryside. But why not cattle and sheep too?

But you really cannot tar every farmer which a 'factory' brush, just as we would hesitate to group you at Peninsulabadgers with the criminal damage, trespass and translocation of badgers (which Prof. Steve Harris has stressed that the badger groups do NOT take part in) but that some of us have witnessed first hand.

'Factory farmed' livestock implies feedlot quantities. How does that square with the our contributor to this site from the Derbyshire Peaks, who has less than 30 cattle, organically farmed but who has lost many to Tb?

To see how many farmers fought to save their livestock in FMD please see posts and articles on www.warmwell.com

Our own herd is home bred and (we are told)not big enough by today's standards. Yields are high, but nutrition matches output, and our oldest cattle are fit and well at over 15 years old. To us, they are part of our family and to lose them, often heavily in calf is devastating.

Cornwallbadgers. Our herd has not increased in size in 20 years, but farm acreage has, and we feed mostly home grown feed. Herd health status is high (says our vet) and we have vaccinated for BVD for the last 7 years. We belonged voluntarily to the old MAFF EBL (Enzootic bovine Leucosis) scheme, which meant that the farm had to be inspected for biosecurity and cattle contact.

We have said on this site many times that we as farmers want to eradicate Tb, not eradicate badgers. 'The cat's out of the Bag' post, drew comments from a Wildlife Trust member who confirmed that a stray mangy cat was most likely the cause of Tb breakdowns in his/her own and neighbouring cattle, not the badgers. Where this mangy cat picked bTb up from is not explored, but the post told of a smallholding whose cats had died after sharing feed dishes with a lone sick badger.

Did you pick up on the PCR technology posts?

This machine was offered to Defra by Fred Brown during FMD, but was turned down in favour of the mass slaughter of 11 million cattle and sheep. We understand that it can identify TB bacteria in the environment.

You used the word' exterminate', but that emotive word you will not find used by us. We found the wholesale slaughter of cattle and sheep during FMD horrendous, and we hear what you say when people (who should no better) apply that same word to badger control.

But, if bTb could be positively identified wherever that might be???? Cats, deer or badgers??.

For your members: The farmers who experienced the loss of their herds in FMD also saw their badgers move on - to where the next live cattle were. Territorial fighting was inevitable and a year later when the farms restocked, the badgers who returned were battered, scarred and riddled with Tb.

Two farmers have told us that due to the huge crops of acorns last autumn, 'their' badgers produced a second litter of cubs in 2004.

And those growing crops which are late harvested such as beet, maize, mangels etc. have seen female badgers have young much earlier as their body weight reaches optimum through enhanced autumn feeding and the implanted pregnancy develops.
In view of population densities already explored on this site by Dr. Stanton, whether this is a cause for celebration remains to be seen.
Matt 5

cornwallbadgers said...

Hello again,

I would firstly like to state that I am not totally unsympathetic to farmers, and I do not wish to 'tar all with one brush'
Obviously there is great variation in size of farm, etc. Some farmers have higher standards than others, but "on many farms, biosecurity is an absolute joke" - professor Bourne ISG chairman. If all was rosy the FAWC would have nothing to report - not all farmers are as good as you Matthew

What is really a puzzle to me is why those farmers that find farming to be such a painfull existence don't give up and get employment elsewhere.

To continue along the thread-

M - Where this mangy cat picked bTb up from is not explored,
Answer - drinking unpasteurised milk perhaps?

M - Did you pick up on the PCR technology posts?
Answer - not on your site, but I am aware of this technology.
However, there is currently no viable way of testing wild badgers for bTB - or for that matter cattle reliably. We're on the same side looking for better testing methods I think.

M - You used the word' exterminate',

Answer - did I? Where?

M - But, if bTb could be positively identified wherever that might be???? Cats, deer or badgers??.

Answer - a bloody big if that £millions are spent trying to do(£ of taxpayers money that is)

M - For your members: The farmers who experienced the loss of their herds in FMD also saw their badgers move on - to where the next live cattle were. Territorial fighting was inevitable and a year later when the farms restocked, the badgers who returned were battered, scarred and riddled with Tb.

Answer - this is very interesting! Could you tell us please if this implies that badgers are dependant on cattle somehow, and also how these badgers were identified?

M - Two farmers have told us that due to the huge crops of acorns last autumn, 'their' badgers produced a second litter of cubs in 2004.

Answer - again very interesting - how was it determined that the same sow(s) had these second litters?

Nowadays people want scientific solutions to problems. The days of old wives tales and 'farmers know best' are long gone. That's not to say that all experience counts for nowt, but personal experiences, however painfull are not generally acceptable sources of solutions in a modern socety.

"NATURE MUST BE CONTROLLED" - a Penzance market gardener said - not made much of a job of it yet have we?

Matthew said...

You've given us a list here, but here goes!

We agree that there are certain bio security practices which we are advised by Defra would help with preventing Tb transmission between 'wildlife' and cattle. The problem here is that subsequent research (Dr. Tim Roper - Sussex) has shown that many are a waste of time. Block or bucket feeding is bad, but the height of a feed trough which Defra give as '80cm' was easily breached by the lightest and sickest of Dr. Roper's filmed badgers who made it to 125cm. That's 4'3 in old money and as the PQ's show "too high for cattle to reach".

We hung our troughs on field gates - but when I read Tim's research, I realised we'd given the badgers a ladder! Other farmers feed directly on the grass - a new clean area every time - and maybe that is better.

We hadn't realised that our buildings were being used as Mac Donalds. Again Tim Roper's night filming showed not one, but several social groups regularly entering farm buildings to share feed. Our gates are sheeted to the ground - or within 3 inches (Any lower and they wouldn't clear concrete at one end) but SVS vets who have photographed them, say a badger could get under that.

But we think the main entry point was under cubicle doors which are 18 inches off the ground to allow automatic scrapers to clear. that meant them coming down 100 ft of cattle area, across a covered yard then into a wide central feed passage. When in that area, the cows' heads would have blocked their exit, if those doors were low enough - and Steve Harris thinks this is feasible too. So this winter we've actually left the big gates open. The large pen which held in calf heifers and is next to that exit gate, got absolutely hammered in 2003, losing 17 out of 24 occupants. Some of those had not ever been out to grass. bTb had come IN to them - and yes we'd failed to protect them. But voiding 300,000 units of m.bovis in just 1ml of urine from a badger with kidney lesions, (30ml at a time) and just 70 units to infect a cow, the dose in a confined space would have been enormous. Herd health is important for many reasons, but in the face of this challenge would not have helped.

This is the 'elephant in the room ' as Richard would say. Too big to be seen, but in there and vital. M. bovis has no place at all in the environment - too many species are susceptible including ultimately humans.

Back to your questions.

We loved our dairy cattle farming until after nearly 100 years (herd started by grandfather in 1908) we were put under Tb restriction. Now the only way out for our herd is direct slaughter - unless we can get clear of Tb. So we would retire - if we could.

The smallholding which produced the dead badger and subsequently the 4 / 5 cats which spoligotyped the same had no cattle. Just ponies. The comment from 'Jacqu' gave no indication as to where the mangy cat had contracted Tb - just that our post re cats had 'proved that it was not the badgers!'

Most cattle lesions are in the lungs and lymph nodes, rarely in the udder, particularly in areas of annual testing. In fact out of 40 cattle taken from here testing every 60 days, it took 2 years to 'confirm' the first case - 2 of those in calf heifers in the big pen then No Visible Lesions at p.m until last August when a heifer cultured positive.

PCR is described on the site, and (we hope) a link given for Enigma Diagnostics who have the UK fast track one, and Michigan's too.
We have no problem with the intradermal skin test. It is OIE (Office of International Epizootics) approved and in use either with a comparison avian (as in UK), or singularly in the caudal fold - all over the world. PQ's say that 'in the absence of a wildlife reservoir it is all that is needed'. In 1986 UK killed 686 cattle and had less than 100 herds under restriction. Even John Bourne says 'it's an excellent herd test', but it is less accurate when applied to a single animal.

'Exterminate' - used on your post re Irish trials which we answered.
(next post down from this one)

The £££ millions - £2 billion projected over 10 years - are not being spent in the right direction - and if results like Tim Roper's or Prof. Godfray's in any way contradict Defra's, then they are ignored. 30 percent of the budget goes on farmer compensation (a new compensation accountant has been employed to reduce that too) leaving 60 - 70 percent a Beneficial employment opportunity for many, who will not give up easily. That's what we said - there is a whole industry out there which can only thrive if a)bTb continues to grow and b) the badger people and farmers are kept 'polarised' - which Krebs was always going to do.

Post FMD. PQ's have described 'habitat richness' on which badgers are dependant and yes that means primarily livestock dung, to enrich the soil and provide worms and beetles. Dr. Chris Cheeseman has said many times "Where you are farming cattle, you are essentially farming badgers". There are also tonnes of protein rich placenta's available at calving and lambing times, and stillborn lambs (or not so stillborn, if mum isn't quick enough).

Two contributers to the site described 'death valley' when their cattle were slaughtered out. Even the birds went too. The chap who saw the return of 'not MY badgers' is an old style countryman. He knew 'his' big old sows, their markings and their habits. Those that returned were thinnner, scarred, disorientated and lost. If any of his had returned they'd had a thorough mauling, and bite wounds are lethal for the spread of generalised Tb within the animal.

A lovely tale was told by a farmer whose land bordered a river which formed the boundary of a Krebs triplet. JB's lot arrived with traps and noise, and the man's neighbour rang him (he was not in the trial) "Did you know I've got your badgers - they've swum the river" When the team left empty handed (or empty caged), the badgers swam back!! How did these 2 farmers know? That particular group were slightly albino, with more white on them. They were familiar and easily identifiable to their farmers - just like our black and white cattle - all unique and different.

Same answer here to the '2 litter' question. This chap knows 'his' badgers.

We told SVS that young badgers were tracking this spring. "How do you know?" they said.
"Err little footprints, and little dung piles?".

No-one can 'control' nature. You work with it or it bites back.

Remember 'the elephant in the room' M.bovis is the elephant.

cornwallbadgers said...

Well a very long response Matthew
farming obviuosly isnt quite as time consuming for you as many others claim it to be.

I trust that with all you knowledge and experience you will be helping to formulate the farming industry strategy for TB control that you report as being asked for by Ben Bradshaw et al.

I am sure that this correspondence could go on between us 'till the cows come home', but I'm not sure that it is a useful use of my time, or yours.

We are seemingly on different wavelengths particulary when you attribute me using a word when was quoting ( note the " " )researh conclusions.

Why don't you mention that the Irish study concluded that "Badger extermination is not a viable way to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle" ?

I look forward to reading the strategy - I hope that it will be of more credit to your industry than some of it's past efforts.

Meanwhile, if I wanted to retire, but was convinced that I was being prevented from doing so by badgers, I would make every effort to exclude them from my property.

I know that for you this is a personal issue, but you a part of a larger industry that has many problems and an ever worsening public image. 'Your' new strategy will further influence this.

Matthew said...

Are starving badgers really what you want then ?
'Fence them out of the property' - when Defra and a bag full of 'experts' failed to keep them out of the gardens of Saltdean?

We have 200 acres, 3 public footpaths and would need about 5 miles of fencing dug at least 6 feet into the ground - and then what? Badgers deprived of 200 acres of our 'habitat richness' would have to move to the next farm, and the next. And if all cattle farmers did that (fence 'em out) there would be some very dead badgers.

Personally I'd rather appreciate and live alongside healthy ones.

I can't second guess the strategy, but stand by a cynical observation that it will be either ignored or cherry picked..

You'll find the full Irish Trial paper at www.sciencedirect.com and www.elsevier.com/locate/preventmed
We quoted from p.28 part 4, and 5 -the Conclusion.

Tb is a revoltingly cruel death for anything. Devon farmers tell us, they've picked up 11 dead or half dead badgers recently - and 7 new farms are under restriction. These badgers were only one third their normal body weight, fur missing, claws overgrown and were covered in sores and pus ridden abscesses.

If I thought there was a chance to close the 'polarisation' on this contentious issue, I'd still take it. The countryside, the cattle and especially the badgers are the losers if we don't.

cornwallbadgers said...

You are the loser


Reactiv8 said...

Matthew/CornwallBadgers/Harriet - an interesting forum ... although I am a badger lover and member of many trusts and support groups (also tending two surviving orphans nearby - their parents, and smallest sibling were sadly 'roadkills' in April/May, to be collected by yours truly in the morning with much sadness - especially the little one), I must agree with Matthew that this polarisation will help no-one, least of all the animals. Yes Harriet, I too abhor any animal deaths or cruelty - I am Vegan, but realise that in this world some people will always be carnivorous unless we can persude them otherwise. You can't force or frighten others into sharing our view, sorry. Matthew, farmers and even carnivores do have human rights too ... I would dearly love them to all be Raw Vegan, growing organic arable crops in rotation with grazed pasture with herbivorous 'friends' ...who knows one day. Why can we not end agricultural subsidies, and let farmers charge the real cost of producing our food? That would make a real difference, and industrialised chemical despoilation of our once beautiful countryside would no longer make economic sense. The soil has been destroyed by decades of artificial fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides being dumped on ploughed fields. We could do away with those ugly noisy, beastly tractors. Ploughing is not necessary to grow healthy and productive crops - just read Graham Harvey's 'We Want Real Food'. Smallholding farmers knew this in the 30's & 40's, why has this generation largely forgotten it? Now the soil has become de-natured it deprives cattle, crops and badgers alike of adequate minerals. Fewer worms for the badgers too ... Try collecting rock dust from your local quarry as free fertiliser - you know it makes sense! - Just watch those plants go, when they have the right minerals and trace elements!
Please keep in contact - this is a useful forum, and communication is the only way forward. I would do anything, including a hunger strike to save our badgers, but alienating farmers won't help. I live in The Marches (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Powys borders), where we have many four legged friends:- Badgers, Otters, Polecats, Stoats, Weasels and Foxes too! They can happily co-exist with the healthy sheep and cows I can see out of my window, over the garden wall. Yes, maybe try keeping a billy goat with your herd, I have heard that Llamas or Alpaccas make good guardians too - they can run faster than goats and are bigger too!
You are welcome to contact me anytime (you too, please Harriet?!), but me Email address does have filters, so maybe try posting more on this site or at peninsulabadgers?
Chris - Reactiv8@hotmail.co.uk