Monday, May 28, 2012

Is there a difference?

AHVLA's Regional Operations Director (or ROD) in the SW and based at Exeter is was a chap called Mark Yates. He first came to our attention when problems surfaced last year for Defra's new toy,  a computer which they call SAM.

We are assured that the acronym stands for nothing at all, but many farmers and AH staff on the receiving end of its ongoing indigestion could invent a few words - Sodding Awful Machine is one more polite suggestion offered. In an interview, Mr. Yates offered to help out any farmer with problems.

The fact that most of us couldn't get within a mile of him is neither here nor there... but we digress. Mr Yates has gone. Left, as in disappeared ... gawn. It is said that he may have rejoined his previous employer, the British Army, called to the colours to do battle with them in forin parts.

Now that is scary. Surely a cosy seat in AHVLA, talking (or not) to cattle farmers whose main concern is the health and welfare of their animals, is preferable to facing a Taliban fighter waving an AK summat, or an RPG wotsit launcher in his face?

Or perhaps when the latest tranch of cattle measures hit farmers and there is no sign of a parallel policy to control badgers, there may be no difference at all.  But then, hell hath no fury like a cattleman scorned. It could be safer where he's going.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The ostrich syndrome

We have used that description before when describing the overspill of bTB from an environmental, non-bovine source’ – badgers, into another popular mammal, alpacas.
Playing with their own published statistics, and deflecting searching questions about the true level of losses has become just a game to Defra. But just how are their bTB team going to deal with the latest news, widely reported not only in the Farming press but the BBC  and some national papers, of a 400 animal cull of alpacas from a single herd in Sussex?

From the FG piece:
"The sheer scale of the outbreak sheds new light on the scale of the bTB problem in UK alpacas. Official Defra figures show 58 alpaca and llama herds had been confirmed with bTB in Britain up to September 2011, although there is a suspicion that not every case has been reported over the years.
There is, however, no official record of the number of animals slaughtered as result of the disease as Defra’s official figures for ‘non-bovines’ only record the positive sample or samples that has confirmed the outbreak, not other animals subsequently slaughtered."


We cannot identify the collective head of Defra in this picture. Or precisely who is responsible for the arrogant and misleading hubris which their bTB team spit out so convincingly. That is very firmly in the sand.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How can you be 100% sure ....

...   that she contracted TB from wildlife? So said a curt note from the Badger Trust in reply to a farmer in Wales, about to lose this beautiful cow. For good measure they also said they cared about ALL animals. You could have fooled us;  they sure as hell don't care about badgers riddled with TB. Those collecting tins wouldn't rattle much if they'd showed the reality of TB in their chosen species.

The answer of course, is quite simple. Whenever a new TB breakdown is flagged up by sentinel tested cattle, then AH do a 'risk assessment' to discover the source. The clue is in the word 'risk'. AH officers trawl movement books and BCMS records (amongst other documentation) back to a couple of months prior to the herd's last clear TB test.  Any cattle sold will be traced and if alive, check tested.

But if like many self contained pedigree herds, no cattle have been purchased in, and if like most of us, boundaries are secure from nose to nose contact with any other cattle, as bTB bacteria don't fly in with the tooth fairy and aren't wind borne,  then the conclusion has to be .... wildlife.
Then it is down to whether deer can scramble under gates and share food with housed cattle.

When these assessments are done, the Badger Trust's money machines favourite  mammal starts way down the list of possibles. But guess what? In the majority of cases, they come out AH's favourite. By default, and having excluded every other possibility, up to 90 per cent of TB breakdowns in the West and SW are officicially placed at the door of badgers.

Her name is 'Candice' by the way : she lived in Powys, tested clear in December 2010 and again in May 2011. But she failed the herd's annual test this year and on monday, May 21st. 2012 she will die.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Update - Dianne Summers

Following our postings on Dianne's illness, she has updated the  website with this thumbnail of how she is coping with the intensive bTB drug regime. (click News tab for the full account)
On April 12th 2012 Dianne started a nine month regime of a cocktail of drugs and was advised the side effects can be very unpleasant. 

"Unfortunately 8 days into the course I had severe side effects to the drugs which included severe all over body rash – blurred vision – faintness – severe headache and aching joints and had to seek emergency care on Sunday 22nd April. The drugs were stopped immediately and once again I had to go to hospital. I was then put on drugs to sort out the side effects and once they had cleared then the drugs could be reintroduced one at a time until we discover which drug caused the problem. "

As Dianne says, bTB (m.bovis)  in humans isn’t a quick fix – and it isn’t a case of 2 weeks of aspirin and you will be right as rain.

On April 29 I ended up back in hospital for 6 days because of a downturn in my condition. The drugs were reintroduced in a controlled environment and it was revealed I had an allergic reaction to Ethambutol. A new regime was set up and I have been on the new drugs for the past week. The side effects of the drugs are very difficult to cope with – total fatigue – dizziness – nausea to name but a few. The thought of feeling like this for the next nine months is pretty daunting
On 10 May I received a letter from H.P.A. in response to my constant requests asking why none of my contacts had been offered testing. The letter informed me that because I was culture positive but smear negative this meant I was not infectious to others and therefore none of my contacts would be offered tests. Only members of my family household would be offered: but as I live on my own this meant no one would be tested. It is a relief to me and no doubt to my contacts that they were not at any risk nor were my own animals.

On May 11th I was informed by my consultant that the spoligotype was the same as my herd from 2009. I had not helped any other herd with the same strain type as myself so at least we now know it was from my breakdown back in 2008/09. As stated earlier I had lost 8 only 6 of these had visible lesions and I took all the necessary precautions once I knew I had TB. We have many many owners who have lost far more infected alpacas then I have so the risk to them/us is huge and let’s not forget Vets and Shearers who are constantly exposed to risk .

The full script of Dianne's story and her fight with 'bovine' TB can be viewed on

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mayday at Heolfawr Cross - short film.

It's May 1st 2012 and on Dai Bevan's farm in Carmarthenshire the future for his herd of pedigree Longhorn Cattle looks bleak. Bovine TB has struck. Many will have watched Adam Henson's visit to the farm just before the cull on the Sunday evening 13th May edition of Countryfile.

English Longhorns are one of, if not the oldest breed of cattle in the UK. Developed and improved by Robert Bakewell in the 1750s, they are now nurtured by specialist breeders the world over.

The following film, made by Dartmoor's Chris Chapman shows more of Dai Bevan's story.

Most of his beautiful herd of Longhorn cattle are now dead.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A farmer's story.

Many times on farming forums and in the comments sections of the farming press, we are the butt of the same old, same old mantra. bTB is all our fault. It is dirty farmers, lax farming practises, cattle movements and fraud which cause bTB. Not only is this a slight on the whole of our industry but it is plain wrong.

Last year one such farmer told his story in the comments section of an article on badger vaccination, published in the Farmers Guardian. Christopher Sturdy tells it as it is; he speaks for those of us snarled up in Defra's cats' cradle of smoke and mirrors which surrounds the so-called control of the disease known as 'Bovine' Tuberculosis.

"Well, I read these Anonymous posts this morning, and then I went out to spend a few minutes with my suckler cows and their spring-born calves, some of which are now almost as tall as their mothers. They were grazing happily in some welcome autumn sunshine.

And I thought – we’re due another TB test very soon; already had four tests in the past 12 months – we’re pretty well tested to destruction round here. And the Dread stirs. How many will they take this time? They have killed over one-third of my fine, mainly home-bred, healthy cows in the last year, more in previous years. I want my cattle, not the "massive compensation" that Anonymous thinks I’m paid, (when the reality is that this year I will be £20,000 short on income, with almost no parallel reduction in my costs).

Then I thought "remember, it’s your fault".

What? Why? What have I done?

Anonymous says so – to the whole world. Anonymous says that "cattle, farmers and Defra’s failure ..." are the "real root of the problem". He can’t mean corn farmers, he must mean me.

I am the real root of the bTB problem. But I’ve done all the required tests for years and years, so has every neighbour and beyond that I know, they just go on doing it and put up with the loss, hands tied behind their backs, slow motion execution. Or they give up. Some kill themselves. Good riddance, they’re the "real root of the problem". They leave desperate notes. And they leave families.

Then I think: maybe Anonymous didn’t actually mean "farmers". Maybe he (or she, apologies, I’ve never been to a christening where the priest says "I name this child Anonymous") meant "a very very few farmers".

And I thought: I don’t tell Anonymous that he’s a thief and a criminal just because a minute proportion of our society are thieves and criminals. Anonymous must mean cattle farmers. Anonymous isn’t stupid, or ignorant, or careless with what he blags over the internet. If he meant "a very few" he would say that. Anonymous knows stuff.

And I thought: having got all the cattle in yet again, twice in one week, maybe raining on us all day, all the stress, will I have to hear the vet, one after another "another reactor I’m afraid". Will I be able to go on running them down the race. Will I finally succumb to the overwhelming urge to walk off and say "test them your ****self".

When I phone Animal "Health" and say "I don’t think I can bring myself to load these fine cattle for such unnecessary premature slaughter, you’re asking me to buy the bullets for my own execution" will she laugh like last time – think I’m joking. Think I’m joking. Think I’m joking. Will she think I’m joking? Will I return happily home and tell Jane "no worries, just another 15 going today, what’s for tea?" Will she say "what are they doing about the badgers?" Nothing. None have been even tested. All they do is talk and delay. They don’t want to lose the vote of Anonymous. Anonymous knows such a lot.

Anonymous is a badgerist, and badgerism is a faith thing.

Anonymous’s grasp of logic is so slender that he has just written that if we think badgers are the real problem why is it that the proposed slaughter of badgers will produce at best a 16% fall in bTB over 9 years.

But Anonymous doesn’t understand that this is Defra’s guess, that the proposed cull will be on their incredible terms - not in winter so they can breed again, no more than 70% of the population and so on ... Anonymous has written that Defra’s guess means that badgers aren’t the "real problem". That’s the "logic". Incredibly. Anonymous doesn’t understand that whether or not badgers are the "real problem" has absolutely nothing to do with Defra’s culling proposals.

Anonymous won’t even understand what I’m saying. If he could understand, he could not possibly have written what he did.

And I say to the Ministry vet at the test "it’s not working is it?"

What isn’t working?

Your policy to control bTB.

Well, we’re clearing it from the cattle.

Yes, you’re clearing it from the cattle. Like you have done since about 1930.

I need to remember. It’s my fault. Anonymous is right. It’s my fault. The farmers are the "real root of the problem". And I’m one of them. I hang my head. I will not let despair take over. I try and enjoy the autumn sunshine.

Hard luck story? No, that’s exactly how it is, here on the coal face. For thousands and thousands of us here in the West and Wales. Exactly how it is.

This FG news story, sabotaged to revisit yet again the culling thing, was a real breath of fresh air. The Badgerists, or some of them, stepping gingerly back from pure faith and dogma, to do a little experiment. Linking up with a very enlightened NFU man and  five very enlightened farmers.

No doubt if there are good results, the Badgerists won’t be worrying about lack of control experiments.

It’s light years away from a solution, but it’s a supernova in terms of human progress. Let’s hope that the enlightenment grows, more tests ensue, truly independent observers tell us what results they find.

In the intervening years, while we carry on waiting, like we waited for Nick Brown, Margaret Beckett, David Miliband, Hilary Benn, Jim Paice and others, what will Anonymous have to say to me when they have killed my last breeding cow?

Silly cow farmer, you were the real root of the problem, ten of your mates disobeyed the rules."

Mr. Sturdy speaks for all of us writing on this blog, and the vast majority of cattle farmers.

We are most grateful for permission to publish his posting.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

A few more nails

Coming in on July 1st are a few more nails in cattle movement options for England, introduced to secure EU funding ..... to slaughter more cattle. We had the bones of the story in this posting, and today Farmers Guardian have the detail in this article. NBA TB committee chairman, Bill Harper said that farmers will have to prepare and he urged them to take up the new rules quickly.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Di Summers - Update.

In a follow up to our recent posting about Dianne Summers who has herself contracted pulmonary TB, (confirmed as m.bovis), Di has put an update about her progress on this link. At present Dianne is once again in hospital. We note from her update, written on 27th. April, that moving with all the urgency of a sloth on Valium, HPA have yet to get in touch with any of Dianne's recent contacts.

Several cattle farmers have mentioned Di's illness to us and all have sent best wishes to her.

EDIT: 5/05/12 Di has sent a message that she spent all of last week in hospital again. She is struggling to feel anything like 'normal' and is not taking this cocktail of drugs very well at all. We understand that on certain systems, MAC being one, the link to Di's own story is not working. If not, please go to and click the tab 'News'.