We have deliberately kept a low profile on this issue. Emotions running high do not a good posting make. That said, having religiously (if you'll pardon the pun) offered up cattle every 60 days for testing, enduring the stress, abortions, bruises and loss of milk yield / growth associated with this, had sleepless nights imagining lumps and bumps where there were none - and missing the vital couple which condemned another good cow to the skip - we realise only too well the anguish of the monks of Skandavale. As do the owners of the 11,860 cattle slaughtered in GB to May this year; which correlate neatly with government predictions of a 20 per cent annual rise in Tb incidence in the absence of any 'new dynamics' to control the disease - it's 21.6 per cent actually, but let that pass.
This point was well made in a letter to farming press from a beef breeder this week, who pointed out that the emotional, spiritual and added financial costs have never been taken into account when so-called commercial cattle are taken for slaughter after a positive bTb test. The writer, a farmer from Gwent explained;
A routine test a few years ago found three reactors and an inconclusive in our herd. A few months before our bins had been tipped over nightly and we had seen badgers hobbling away.
We had been led to believe from Defra that having a sett on our land would protect us from bTB from roaming badgers. However, on examination, this sett and all the badgers in it had died out.
What had they 'died out' with, one wonders? Was the farm open to allcomers, or were the badgers she saw raiding dustbins, the remnants of the original group? Not good news anyway. She continues:
I am also extremely angry that badger trusts have been trying to make out it is a lack of hygiene/good husbandry. At least Shambo reacting positive disproves this nonsense.
This is a very good point. So many times those of us who 'farm' animals, are the butt of ignorance and prejudice concerning the conditions in which they are alleged to have been kept. The contributers to this site range from keepers of just 20 organic angus cattle roaming 80 acres to several hundred cattle on several thousand acres. Shambo fitted none of these boxes - but bTb did not make the distinction either.
Our animals were all from the same family, so I suspect a genetic tendency to be more susceptible to the disease, but they were all summer calvers and had not been housed or fed. Our herd is closed, we use AI and they had no contact with other cattle. What was worse was that a Belgian Blue in-calf heifer that was inconclusive was also slaughtered. Tests came back negative for her – so she had to die to prove she did not have the disease.
When an animal proves postive for bTb on standard interpretation of the test, results are automatically rolled back to a severe interpretation which may scoop up those who would otherwise have been inconclusives and subject to retest. Regularly testing, in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, will pick up any cattle who may be incubating bTb, ahead of lesions, which is the case with this heifer. (And 42 of ours as it happens. About half of all the cattle slaughtered prove both NVL and culture negative.)
The monks of Skandavale face that situation now, with animals which tested inconclusive ratcheted down to a more severe interpretation after Shambo's positive results.
And no less distressing is it to those of us faced with a cattle lorry on a one-way-trip. At least Shambo wasn't pregnant:
It was one of the saddest days of my life when I saw them go on the lorry – we had ridden the BSE and foot-and-mouth fiascos only to be brought to our knees financially by bTB. What is not taken into account is the ongoing financial loss, the loss of their calves the next year, the fact that their calves did not thrive as well as if they had been on their mothers milk (and their grieving, looking for mum), and the strain of subjecting suckler cattle to continual testing.
.... our stress, labour and devotion to our cattle is as nothing, not even considered by Defra and the Government.
the writer concludes:
If Shambo has highlighted these facts then this high profile case has been worth it. We must never again allow our feelings to be swept aside and must be vociferous in our efforts to cull infected badgers and make the Government see sense.
We have already determined that we will not be prepared to go through such a harrowing experience again. Our herd has a healthy profile, age and health wise, again but we would sell up rather than rebuild a second time.
Elizabeth Smith, Llan Farm, Goytre, near Usk, Gwent.