Saturday, April 24, 2010

Northern BAS shows to restrict entries.

Below are new biosecurity conditions which will apply to entries to the following two northern shows for alpacas. This is follow up post to our posting below, where the new BAS bio security guidelines were given an airing at Bristol.

The Northumberland show, to be held on 31st May, and the Border Union show, scheduled for July 30 - 31st at Kelso, have published the following conditions of entry:

Entries at both these shows are to be restricted on a geographical basis. This has been agreed by the BAS Board for 2010 only. The situation will be reviewed in 2011.

For any alpaca owners who are unaware of their parish testing interval, all areas west of Defra's maginot line (which is roughly from North Staffordshire, dropping south to Dorset, and coloured red on the map), are on annual testing of their cattle herds. The buffer zone to the east of this line and coloured orange, is on two year testing. The line has already moved further east than this illustration shows.

Full details are available on the website ( under Shows & Events/Programmes.

The restrictions are as follows:

In order to instill confidence in both alpaca and other livestock exhibitors, entries will only be accepted for animals from 3- & 4-year cattle bTB testing areas. Please check your Parish Testing Interval on the Animal Health website before making your entry and include your holding number with your entry fees.
A reduction in the number of entries has been necessary to enable a 3-metre gap between breeders. Spit barriers and comprehensive biosecurity procedures will be in place, as per BAS recommendations.

And over the border to Scotland, which has recently been granted TB-free status,

By order of the Border Union Show Committee, because of Scotland's TB-Free status, entries from England are only open to animals from 3- & 4-year cattle bTB testing areas. Please check your Parish Testing Interval on the Animal Health website.
Full postcodes and Holding numbers of origin are mandatory. Any herd that has been in contact with animals from a 1- or 2-year testing area within the 6 months prior to the show will not be eligible to enter.

More details can be found on the BAS website and local AHOs will confirm the parish testing interval of your holding.

© 2006 British Alpaca Society Ltd

Monday, April 19, 2010

Biosecurity - camelids

The BAS (British Alpaca Society) is well aware after a series of 'TB Awareness' roadshows that when TB hits an alpaca herd, it is more than capable of inter herd spread. The society recently issued Bio security guidelines to all its members. These included the following advice which was designed to minimise contact with other alpacas:

* Herd pens should be separated three metres apart, if possible, with animals penned by county. If the Show Organiser deems it necessary, animals that have been bTB tested should be penned together and kept separate from those herds that have not been tested.

* There should be no collecting ring; the alpacas should enter and exit the show ring via single one-way circular routes.

* The show ring should be as large as possible to allow for the maximum separation of show animals.

* There should be no fans of any type for reasons of bio security and electrical safety

* Alpacas should only be permitted to leave their designated pens to enter the show ring for judging or exiting the showground. There should be no 'airing of the fleece' in outside areas.

Hard on the heels of this most sensible list, came an alpaca show in the SW, from where this pic was snapped. Pens 3m apart to prevent inter herd contact? No fans?
(see later Contributor Update for more on this)

We have given alpacas a considerable airing on this site, as unfortunately for them, they are particularly susceptible to tuberculosis. They also have the ability to become infectious very quickly, to spread the disease between themselves and the potential to transmit to TB to their owners or other mammals.

Unfortunately, even squeezed down to practically zero, the intradermal skin test is not a good indicator of TB exposure in alpacas, and Defra have recently pulled the financial rug on one promising supplementary blood test. The reason given for this was 'lack of funding'. But the cynical amongst us would point out that the "don't look, won't find" culture thrives in the upper echelons of Defra. Particularly as we understand that the BAS has offered to underwrite the costs of validating blood tests on behalf of their members. In a different pot, and slightly off topic, Defra are sitting on £420 million (yes that is correct - lots of noughts) underspend after over estimating take up on some Environmental schemes, and last week's national media reported the department spent (sorry - no link) £7000 per week (£3.5 million in the year) moving furniture around its many departments.

We do not overestimate the importance of clearing reservoirs of TB - wherever they may be. That is the ethos of the site. So to see irresponsibility on the part of some camelid owners is - disappointing. Particularly as from a very small section of owners who have banded together to form a TB support group, come the news of 144 confirmed alpaca deaths from TB during 2009. The group now report a doubling of TB incidence to 68 in the first three months of 2010.

We look forward to seeing these figures accurately reflected on Defra's 'Other species' TB stats, in due course.

This picture is of an alpaca trachea, heavily infected with open TB lesions right up to his throat. He had passed a couple of skin tests.

When questioned about infectivity of this animal: "would he have been infectious when he coughed or spat?" .....

... veterinary advice was that he was "grossly infectious" with every breath he exhaled.

And with no outward symptoms of disease, and having passed skin tests, this animal could have been amongst those in the pens, pictured above.
Right next to other groups - no 3m gap - and with his exhaled air having the benefit of electronic spread.

There are times when words really do fail us.


We have had contact from several alpaca owners who attended the SW show. These are some of their comments on the biosecurity arrangements in evidence.
One breeder was 'interested to see how the new organiser would implement the BAS biosecurity guidelines', and being a BAS supported show, had expected to see efforts made to protect alpacas from disease.
What a disgrace. Just about every guideline was breached.
* There was nowhere near 3m between pens.
* Most pens had fans running, some as many as 3 fans per pen.
* There was a holding area, and alpacas were nose to nose.
* People were walking their alpacas around airing them outside...
* and allowing them to kiss noses with other alpacas.

This comment noted that there was 'a disinfectant pad to walk over'. That was the only measure he could see. And this breeder concluded that it would be unwise to bring his animals to a show.

A second breeder was equally unimpressed, commenting that on his arrival:
* We saw people walking their alpacas outside.
* We could have walked in without being challenged..
* and there were no disinfectant footbaths or pads at the front of the building.
* There was nobody to ensure that animals were walked over pads either on their way to the show ring.
*Animals were kept separated by one pen in the showhalls but this would be ineffective as they were in close proximity to each other in other areas..
The comment continued on the use of fans:
We were shocked at just how many fans there were. We counted at least 11 before we gave up and there were only 23 breeders in attendance; we have made a note of exactly who was using fans.

This writer of this communication questioned whether the organisers of this show had received the BAS Guidelines. And he ended with the comment on this apparent lack of biosecurity awareness:
This is particularly horrifying as it was the South West Show and we all are now aware that this is the area of the country at greatest risk from TB"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tie a yellow ribbon?

The BVA (British Veterinary Association) have issued a statement supporting the High Court decision, that the proposed cull of infected badgers in Wales, is lawful.

Commenting on the verdict, Professor Bill Reilly, President of the British Veterinary Association, said:
“The BVA and BCVA welcome the outcome of the Judicial Review which means that the Welsh Assembly Government’s important work to control and eradicate bovine tuberculosis can go ahead.
John Blackwell, Senior Vice President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, (BCVA) added:
“We have strongly supported the Welsh Assembly Government’s TB Eradication Order because it combines strong measures to tackle the disease in both cattle and wildlife. We are therefore pleased that the court has declared the Order is lawful.

“We will be watching the outcomes of the measures in Wales under the Order closely and hope that, if successful, these measures will be replicated in other areas of the UK.”

And therein lies the problem, as it was with the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. Just how is this exercise going to be carried out and will it be 'successful' - as in reducing sentinel tested cattle slaughter and the opportunity for disease spillback into other mammals?

Will it be quiet, clean, thorough and anonymous? Will experienced operatives be allowed input to decision making, so that problems are tackled before they disrupt the operation? Or, like the bureaucratic, intermittent, incomplete and highly visible RBCT, will it actually achieve it's aim and just scatter a highly infectious population of badgers?

Several contributers to this site had the serious misfortune to be included in the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial triplets. Some in the Proactive areas, one in the Reactive. Their experiences were the same. Intermittent hit-and-run highly publicised visits led to trap interference and trespass by 'activists' hell bent on protecting their chosen species, no matter what the cost to others. And this especially in the first four years of so-called 'culling'. We do not label this farce 'badger disersal' for nothing.

Our bitter experiences were supported in a submission to EFRAcom in 2006, by one of thetrial managers who said:
. * Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activists, to be able to trap badgers anywhere, in order to eliminate them. That was only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure.

* Limited trapping - eight days per year with Krebbs - has little effect if carried out late in the year. The effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull. (In some cases three, or not at all - ed)

* The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. [ snipped ]
Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.
So what of the Welsh effort? Who is the trial manager? Will he listen to his operatives and has he learned anything at all from what went so wrong with the English version, described so eloquently in the submission above?

Cage trapping individual badgers is arguably the most expensive method of dispatching an infected group. So have the Welsh commandeered all those English badger cages (or what's left of them) lurking somewhere at the taxpayer's expense, or have they bought their own? The English ones, in use since the mid 1980s have been developed over time, to ensure that the mesh gauge encourages - as much as any cagetrap can - entry? We are told that a small mesh will not get many volunteers, and that in past trials, 5cm square, or the old 2 x 2 inch was about right.

This also allowed dispatch of the occupant without too much fuss. Any smaller mesh meant entry was limited but more important, the barrel of the rifle or pistol couldn't make entry. This would mean that the occupant had to be translocated into another cage before dispatch. A procedure which is neither fast, easy, or desirable and has meant escapees on many occasions.

The pistols or rifles used in the English badger culling operations were a) silenced and b) used hollow nosed shells for accurate and instant kill with no ricochet. (Too powerful a rifle using supersonic shells, as used in free running target running in open country, runs the risk of operator or onlooker injury in a confined area.)

The RBCT publicised their locations on websites. And sympathisers within Defra offices ensured that WLU operatives ran the gauntlet of abuse and physical attack on a daily basis. The vehicles used in the early days of the trial were like pink elephants, with white Crown tax discs, sparkling clean and their registration numbers noted. Have the Welsh learnt from this and will they protect their operatives? Or will bright shiny suits and noisy cloned vehicles be the order or the day?

We have reported many times the wastage of man hours and trap opportunities which resulted from this 'open house' on the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. Hansard confirms that up to 2003, 5 years into the English trial, almost 70% of traps set were either 'interfered with' or had 'disappeared'. Have the Welsh Assembly taken on board this opportunity for disruption, or like the New Zealanders, do they plan to hang yellow ribbons from trees surrounding the trap areas?

In New Zealand, the aerial drops of poison pellets to clear out infected colonies of bush possums over a large area requires public notification so that anyone approaching an area thus baited, can keep a tight hold on dog, child or grandma. Cage traps laid one night and visited within hours are a different kettle of fish.

We make these points with a clear message to our Welsh colleagues. Don't let bureaucratic intransigence or inappropriate operating protocol screw this up.

As John blackwell of the BCVA said:
“We will be watching the outcomes of the measures in Wales under the Order closely and hope that, if successful, these measures will be replicated in other areas of the UK".

Carried out correctly, culling of groups of TB infected badgers works quickly. Get it wrong and they have the ability and opportunity to spread the disease far and wide.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Welsh have it

.. and the English do not, as we pointed out in this posting.

TB eradication in the round, will go ahead in Wales.
BBC Wales and Farmers Guardian have the story.

While in England, we just kill cattle. And now alpacas. And cats. And dogs. And ...

That £1 million bung from PAL was well spent then? Good value?
Defra have overseen the slaughter of 255,963 cattle since it was paid, and the law of the land tied in knots by a backdoor moratorium on the clearing of tuberculosis from wildlife sources, whose name they dare not speak.. A moratorium which this government have no intention of repealing. In fact Jim Fitzpatrick said in the House of Commons as recently as April 8th., that although "The key issue with bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) in wildlife is when the disease is transmitted to livestock," the Government's policy is that
"no licences will be issued for culling badgers for the purpose of preventing the spread of bTB in cattle, although we remain open to the possibility of revisiting this policy under exceptional circumstances, or if new scientific evidence were to become available."

We have the best administration money can buy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More on how to make a horlicks ...

We have not been terribly enthusiastic about Defra's attempts to control badger-TB in the recent past. And to be fair, Defra have not given us any reason to be enthusiastic. After several years of local control, overseen by experienced Wildlife teams answerable to local AH veterinary staff, the whole thing went pear shaped during the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial.

Political scientists organised - or not - 8 night-hit-and run visits in well advertised locations. FMD interrupted play for a year, and all in all, with trashed traps, spring lay offs and pregnant sows released, it could be considered a bonus to have caught anything at all, at least for the first four years.

Defra's Badger Vaccine Deployment Project appears to be heading in a similar, or even more hazy direction, as we pointed out in this post.
And this week, most of our points were confirmed in Farmers Guardian, with a piece headed 'ill thought out, and expensive'.

More snippets on this expensive charade arrived in a comment today. We cannot verify these, but from past (bitter) experience, they do sound just about right. The comment from the Glos. area points out that some of the badger setts to be targeted on his patch are enormous. And after talking with potential contractors, they confirm that they are instructed to limit the trapping to:

* 3 hours of daylight only.

* they must visit each sett twice, once to check traps and secondly to return with vaccine - however far away vehicular access and thus stored vaccine, may be.

* they may only trap a sett for two nights.

... and then the bit which came as a shock - even to us. Tender and payment, we understand is per sett - whether it has a single hole or happens to be one of these huge earthworks with 50. (And as 'someone else' is doing the survey, whether it is in fact occupied by a badger at all ?) It is certainly not 'per badger' vaccinated. Thus after the two nights (and six hours of daylight) and then the double hike to inspect and return with the 3 ft. hyperdermic laden with vaccine, even if there is only one badger caught out of a potential group of 10 or 20, they are 'timed out'. That's it. Job done and away they go. Leaving how many?

Our comment includes the phrase: "who on earth dreamt this up".

We would suggest, with the greatest respect as ever, 'someone' who doesn't have to account for another shed load of taxpayer's cash which may be spent 'to no good effect' - again.

'Someone' who is happy to blow smoke in the eyes of the gullible public that 'something' is being done by 'someone' who cares not one fig about the health and welfare of badgers.

A 'someone' who quite has happily overseen the slaughter of 255,963 cattle since the moratorium on infected badger control was purchased for £1m in 1997. (To put that in context, the previous 12 year block which had some semblance of well targeted infected badger control, saw 24,556 cattle slaughtered)

A 'someone' who is totally unconcerned about the overspill of badger-TB into numerous other species, to the extent that data is selectively sifted and support antemortem tests refused.

And 'someone' who is presently counting votes.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Defra short of cash? Nah ..

As the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project stutters along - or not, another £630,000 of taxpayer's money bites the dust. Defra have commissioned a few universities to ask what farmers think of vaccinating badgers.
"The social science study has been funded for four years in the first instance and will assess the level of farmer confidence in the use of vaccination before, during and after vaccine deployment. It will also identify motivators and barriers that could influence the future use of TB vaccines. The research is being funded with a grant of just over £630,000 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)."
Online site farminguk has the story.

Defra has no spare cash (we're told). They are certainly reluctant to spend much on PCR machines - even made-in-Britian ones. Postmortems and TB transmission opportunities for newly diagnosed species are limited or nonexistant due to that paucity of cash, we understand. And staff (veterinary, if not managerial) are demoralised even after being launched into a series of bongo drum playing 'bonding jollies' at the taxpayer's expense. But our delightful Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are able to dig deep enough to fund University budgets for this garbage 'fascinating piece of longtitudinal social science research'.

"This is a fascinating piece of longitudinal social science research. It has real academic value and will be useful to both the farming industry and to policy makers."

Never underestimate the ability of bureaurocrats to spend your money.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Vaccination hiccoughs...

Defra's idea to vaccinate badgers against TB in hotspot areas, where most / many candidates are already 'endemically infected' with tuberculosis (and before any of our BT friends start jumping about, that was the answer to a PQ) has got off to a rocky start. Or perhaps no start at all ?

We were alerted by a comment on a previous post to a Farmers Weekly report on the progress (or chaos) of the proposed trial thus far. There is no online link for this so we will type the relevant bits.
"The approval of the first ever tuberculosis vaccine for badgers has been overshadowed by doubts that the July start date for Defra's vaccination trial can be met. While almost 600 farmers have signed up to have their land included in the trial, recruitment of contractors and surveying of target areas has slowed."
That may be because the smoke and mirrors bunny hops which passed for 'policy' on this project were slowly but surely exposed, contradicted and often changed as we pointed out in this posting. But many salient points have yet to be answered and the FW report describes delays in surveying and contractor training which could ..
".. push the start date back to the autumn in four of the [target] areas. "The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) has suggested, behind closed doors, that the start in these areas could be September" an industry insider said.
The Stroud area of Glos is likely to be the area which starts first with Cheltenham also beginning in July. "It is the Hereford/Worcester site , the Staffordshire site and the two Devon sites which face delays" he added.
"If FERA's suggestion of a September start date is correct, that leaves just two months until vaccinating must stop again, ahead of the breeding season in November. The time pressure will be huge and contractors will have to throw a huge amount of extra resource into the project."
We understand from previous posts that contractors bear the cost of traps and labour but will not be responsible for their own surveying. Defra have now kindly agreed to fund vaccine and FERA operatives will survey the land for what they hope will be badger setts. But the insider also points out that:
Some companies are already voicing their concern that the increasing number of traps and personnel required could cause costs to spiral.
"Surveying land for badger setts has also taken time. In some areas only 20 per cent of the land has been surveyed so far. Contractors are having to base tenders on too little information to give accurate costs. Even if they cope this year, they may decide to opt out in 2011," he warned.

And now for the latest 'top up' to this unholy farce latest prevarication from our comments section:
Apparently (and we say this guardedly as it is unsubstantiated thus far) as well as the delays and problems described above, we understand from our contributor that:

* Contractors will only be allowed to operate within 3 hours of daylight and two nights trapping only.
(To put this in context, the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial operatives were allowed almost double that 'daylight' time and eight nights trapping.)

* They will have to pay two visits to each sett, in order to determine how many badgers have been caught before they can prepare the vaccine. (Are the badgers waiting patiently in their traps while all this is going on, one wonders? Cue cartoon? We understand that what this means is the traps must be visited and examined, then the operative must return to his / her vehicle, prepare the vaccine and return, so yes, the badgers are waiting in their traps. You really couldn't make this up.)

* Contractors cannot be sure of what they are tendering for, as FERA have to check their own figures and will not tell them whether it is within budget. ( That sounds very professional.)

* The cut off date for tenders is 7th May. (The election is the 6th May, not that we would presume to draw any conclusions whatsoever from that, you understand)

and finally:

* Contractors will operate on 30 day notice contracts with Defra paying nothing until the first traps are set.

So vehicles, traps and labour must be provided, organised and in place - relying on surveys done by others and with Defra having the option of refusing to cough up?

Our commentator who added this last gem has decided that trying to cost out vaccinating badgers for Defra on such a tenuous basis is not for him, and has pulled out. And he suggests that a different administration, not bound to any contract may just do that too after May 6th.

"The blind leading the blind, in an attempt to waste even more money on our behalf" was how our first contributor described it.

And on that, we couldn't possibly comment.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Spring update.

This week, badger vaccine were given the go ahead for a late summer start. Farmers Guardian reports:
The Defra-funded Badger Vaccine Deployment Project will now take place in areas of 300 in Staffordshire, the Herefordshire and Worcestershire border, two locations in Gloucestershire and two in Devon from this summer. Within each location, vaccination will take place on up to of target farms. Participants are currently being signed up.

Below some 'participants' - and from their locations described above, it is a fair assumption to say most will already be coughing - as is pointed by a longer overview in Western Morning News.
Defra's overview if you remember, on this latest daft idea policy is that 'they hope it won't make things worse'.
Cage trapping badgers already endemically infected with tuberculosis? Holding a wild animal for hours in this cage? Large man appears to turn cage on its end, and stick toasting fork across the bars to secure the not-to-happy occupant, nose down, bum up in said cage? Jabbing them with a (very) long hyperdermic? Applying splodge of paint (not lead based) to identify a once-vaccinated badger? And then releasing it? Repeating this annually? No stress then.

(Our grateful thanks once again for Ken Wignall's permission to use his cartoon.)

From Farmers Weekly, comes a short report which suggests dosing cattle with mushrooms could help tackle TB. Readers should note that this story was filed prior to April 1st. Thanks to the comment which alerted us to the story, and in answer to 'any volunteers?' the answer is no. Not unless all the alpacas, llamas, cats, dogs, goats, sheep and humans have had their 'magic' fix as well.

And finally, Defra's 2009 TB cattle statistics can be seen here. Slaughterings are down and new herd incidents are down, but the number of herds affected taken as a percentage of a dwindling number of cattle herds, is up. The different regions show markedly differing trends, with the incidence in the West slightly up from 22 percent of herds affected during 2008, to 23.4 in 2009. But an 'amplifying' - that's Defra-ese for getting worse - problem in their East and North regions. Cue change regional boundaries? Move the maginot line?

Cattle herds in the East, particularly those served by the Leicester AHO, saw an increase of 35 percent in herds affected by TB during 2009, while the North (including Staffs, Derby and Cheshire) recorded a 53 percent increase in herd restrictions.

For TB in 'other species', which as only cultures sent to VLA form raw data, are likely to be an underestimate, can be viewed on this link .
This chart is compiled from autumn postmortem samples, many of which still await culture results.