Friday, May 02, 2008

Top of the pile

Farmers Guardian this week carries an exclusive report into a prize winning dairy herd near Cardigan in SW Wales. In last year's National Milk Records competitions for Pembrokeshire, the Vaughan family's 'Cilast' herd swept the board, winning five classes, including the overall large herds section, and being placed second or third in eight others, based both on inspection and production criteria.
But the Vaughan family are now among the top contenders for another title – one that no-one wants to hold. Since a bTb breakdown in 2001, a total of 521 of their prize winning cattle have been slaughtered, with 366 going since last August - when the cattle were judged for the NMR competitions.

The farms lie near the Pembrokeshire border with Carmarthenshire, which is at the heart of Wales' 'hot-spot' areas, and after this latest devastating clearout, the sheer numbers of cattle affected probably ranks the herd as one of, if not the worst, of Britain's cattle herds devastated by bTb, which of course remains unchecked in its maintenance reservoir.

Farming as Cilast, the family’s 550-acre, two-farm dairying operation based at Boncath, not far from where Pembrokeshire borders on both Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, lies at the heart of one of the country’s top ‘hotspot’ areas for the disease.
The Vaughans have no doubt either that infected wildlife is the most likely cause of their prolonged misery. Evidence of badger activity has been seen on the land and the farm has 50 acres of woodland.

Such reasoning is backed, too, by the fact that ever since Mr and Mrs Vaughan first began keeping pedigree black and whites 40 years ago – based on Hunday breeding – the emphasis has been on maintaining a closed herd. That was certainly the case in the run-up to the first case of TB being diagnosed back in 2001, when four animals were taken out.

After that initial breakdown, in a herd with no bought in cattle, the relentless round of 60 day testing clanked into action. And doing exactly what it says on the tin, the skin test picked up a further 15 animals with exposure to Tb. In 2003, 35 were lost and 15 in 2004. It was then that the number of cases started to explode.

In 2005 the figure jumped to 44 and in 2006 a further 26 failed the testing. Last year eight went in February, another eight in May, 74 in August, and 65 in October – before hitting three figures in December when 106 cattle went for slaughter. Another 106 failed in January this year, 10 in February and five in March.
Of the 366 slaughtered since last August, 250 have been milkers – 47 classified as Excellent, 103 VG and 36 VG two-year olds.

By any standards these were superb cattle. And after six years exposure to an increasing burden of Tb infection in the wildlife sharing their habitat, they are dead. Three quarters of this long established and home bred herd have gone - on the altar of prevarication and political expediency. Farmers Guardian continues:
The consequence is that the heart has been ripped out of a herd proud of its pedigree status and riding high as a result of the selective breeding that has gone into moulding such a high-flying herd with an average yield consistently topping the 9,700 litre mark. Such decimation means that two-thirds of the unit’s fully-modernised cubicle housing is now lying empty, more than £300,000 has been lost in milk sales in the past six months alone and there is no longer enough work for an employee.

Having been in the same position - but on a smaller scale - as the Vaughan family, we understand their feelings and utter frustration. Barry Alston's full report and pictures can be read here

1 comment:

George said...

What a good job they are in Wales, and are at least getting reasonable prices for their reactors!