Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"What have I done wrong?"

A comment on a previous posting alerted us to the case of a sad Tb breakdown in an East Devon herd, which again we will quote in full:

In response to the article written by Trevor Lawson from the Badger Trust (WMN, June 5), I had to write in disgust. I ask Mr Lawson: What have I done so wrong?

I am the fourth generation to run our family dairy farm which started at the turn of the 19th century. During those years we have established our own closed herd of cows; we breed entirely from our own livestock, with the exception of purchasing two cows from my uncle when he retired from milk production in the late 1980s.

Until this day, no other livestock has been introduced to our herd of approximately 150 cows. We are passionate about our livestock and the countryside and were among the few to avoid the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and have never had a case of a cow with a TB reaction to any of the routine TB checks that have taken place annually for longer than I have been running our farm.

Mr Lawson, our boundaries are well kept and, because of the demise of the dairy industry where ten years ago there were 14 dairy farms in the Sidbury Valley, East Devon, now there are only three and none of these border our farm.

Can you imagine my shock and horror to discover that on June 6 three of our cows reacted to the TB test and had to be humanely killed immediately, plus, 21 inconclusively confirmed, to be rechecked in 40 days.

It is my understanding that this particular strain of TB is only carried by cows, deer and badgers. I am not a scientist and as the deer population is controlled in our valley, this leads me to believe that this outbreak can only have been introduced by one source, the roaming wild badger.

Mr Lawson, I would never want to see our badger population decimated by either man or TB, but we have to work together. Is there any way that representatives from DEFRA, NFU and the Badger Trust can meet to discuss a positive way forward to deal with this problem?

Mike Coles


Over to you Trevor. Another closed herd, now with a bTb problem that if our contributer's experiences are anything to go by, will not go away any time soon. Mike Coles is in there for the duration. Five years, six or longer of 60 day testing and slaughter. And that will continue until the non-bovine source of his problem is taken out of circulation. Or are you going to suggest, as has been suggested to us, that his CTS / BCMS records are 'incomplete' and that Mr. Coles has been engaging in 'moonlighting' cattle with unrecorded movements? We really hope not.....

Letter published in the Western Morning News 19th. June.


Anonymous said...

These cases are indeed very sad which is why the ISGs report made such depressing reading. It would be insensitive to suggest that a farmer has been 'moonlighting' cattle - cases like this must come from badgers. It's such a shame that a cull isn't going to work either. It just leaves farmers like these with little hope.

Matthew said...

Anon 11.15
We're glad you think it 'insensitive' to suggest that Mr. Coles has been moving cattle illegally - we have had just such a suggestion lobbed at us.

Do not confuse an ISG 'dispersal' using 8 nights of cage trapping, every 1/2 or 3 years with a 'targetted actual cull' of the animal(s) responsible. That is achievable and necessary.

Without it, Mike Coles is there for the duration - or until Defra 'depopulate' his herd. That option too is snuck into the ISG report. But without cattle Mr. Cole's badgers will have to move elsewhere too, as they did post FMD, and cause havoc to his neighbours.

Anonymous said...

but a targetted cull of those responsible is like the holy grail - there is not a proven, reliable way of determining if a live badger is infected. Until there is, the only type of cull possible is one which takes out healthy as well as infected badgers and the RBCT showed us what happens if you try to do this. You may claim that the way the trial operated was flawed but it replicated what would happen in real life - animal rights activists will interfere with traps, trapping will not get 100% of badgers. As for suggestions of gassing or snaring, these are inhumane and therefore unacceptable. You criticise the trapping effort ("8 nights.. every 1/2 or 3 years") so does this mean that you want much more frequent trapping? If so, who's to pay for it? The tax-payer? And even if there was more frequent trapping, badgers would still come in from outside areas and the 'edge effect' would still occur.

Matthew said...

Anon: 5.19
The holy grail is in sight. But Defra are looking at it with eyes wide shut.

The policy which possibly worked best in the past was the so-called clean ring policy, which is described by ex DVM Andrew Proud, in his posting last week:
(1981-1986) The “Clean Ring” policy, where, instead of gassing setts, all social groups of badgers using the infected farm were identified and as many as possible (in a prolonged operation) were trapped, shot, and examined post mortem. Subsequently, any social groups of badgers contiguous to groups in which tuberculous badgers were found were subjected to the same treatment until a clean ring of uninfected social groups had been removed around the infected farm."

We have subsequently been informed that in the outer contiguous 'ring' a sample two or three badgers were shot and postmortemed - not the whole sett. When they were found to be clear, then the sett and was left. This had the effect of only sampled ' clean' badgers moving inwards to the vaccuum vacated by infected setts, thus causing no problems to sentinel cattle at all. And by 'prolonged', the WLU say they mean weeks, not months or years.

Gassing previously used hydrogen cyanide and that proved slow we are told. Much more humane results can be obtained using carbon dioxide / monoxide mix - again we understand, and not from personal experience. Interestingly, rabbits, moles and foxes can still be controlled underground using hy.cyanide.

Gamma interferon is said to be highly effective at finding infectious badgers, so samples could now be taken without culling first, and the sett cleared only if infection found. And of course the use of PCR would negate the use of catching any badgers at all. That is the holy grail.

But a prolonged wringing of hands will not help this farm get clear of infection. Only eliminating the source will do that, and cattle it is not.

Meanwhile the taxpayer is supporting 6 tests per year instead of 1, 6x the number of tuberculin antigen jabs needed instead of one batch for the herd. Numerous samples, slaughterhouse fees and transport. Paperwork ex the local AHO, public health departments and local councils. Farm restriction notices, test results and sample results. He has absolutely no chance of getting clear until the cause of the infection is gone. And that could take years. What cost a tightly targetted cull of a few weeks against that?
And if Mr. Coles had Tb insurance before, he will not be accepted for renewal, having had a breakdown.