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The unpredictability of TB testing and new tractor tyres leave hole in wallet

This month, Roger Evans tells us about the unpredictability of TB testing, how organic cattle cake is so expensive it needs careful allocation, and finally regales us with the case of the bald van tyres.

There was a time when I used to try and guess whether we would pass a TB test. Not any more I don’t. Thinking you will pass only leads to disappointment.

 

Last summer, TB really caught us out. We were just going to go organic and move to better milk prices. Our cow numbers were at their lowest, but we intended to buy some.

 

TB put an end to all that so here we go, 10 months later, and we are only just getting going.

 

We have bought some close-to-calving heifers, and we bought more than we needed, so unless we have a really big TB hit our numbers should be ok for a couple of years.

 

But planning around TB didn’t stop there. About 20 of the heifers were in calf to sexed semen so we have 19 heifer calves in the system more than usual, and that should see replacement numbers ok for a few years.


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It’s an irony that we are planning around TB which was eradicated, near enough, 50 years ago! The other irony is the calves. We decided, at the outset, that all the dairy bulls would be sent for slaughter.

 

We’ve never done that before, but saw little point in rearing them. We’ve reared all the beef cross calves but because organic feed is so expensive I don’t expect there to be any margin in them, and there doesn’t seem to be a premium for organic calves.

 

Organic milk powder is so expensive that it is much better to rear these calves on cows’ milk, which means even less milk to sell, and so it goes on.

 

Having said all that we have now had two clear TB tests and are now, to all intents, clear of TB. To have two clear tests really surprised me, but there’s plenty of TB around here so I have no confidence that we will pass at our next test.

 

I filled in a form that is supposed to show an interest in badger culling in the area. They should have started a cull around here three years ago. It’s all so reactive, they wait for a problem to get worse and then they might do something about it.

 

I have to plan ahead with TB but they don’t, but it is farmers who have to bear the cost of the inactivity.

 

I’ve been reading a book about bovine TB, it’s called ‘Double Damned’, and it is well worth a read. It tells me that badger activity will build up TB infection on grassland over winter and stock will be most at risk when they go out in the spring, so autumn tests are something to look forward to!

 

The book told me things I didn’t know about badgers and things I didn’t know about TB. I thought that science would eventually prove, one way or the other, the answer to the role badgers play in bovine TB, but there is so much science that is conflicting in its deliberations that it is quite easy to find scientific evidence that suits any point of view.

 

I’ve had ministry vets sitting at this kitchen table who have told me that the strain of TB affecting our cattle originated in badgers, and that I should do everything I could to keep the two species separate. But they never say that publically do they? I don’t necessarily blame the vets, their orders probably come from higher up.

 

I’ve just had to order a new set of tyres for our main tractor. Wow! As I ordered them it occurred to me that they were costing about four times what I spent on my first tractor, but that was second hand.

 

Things are a bit tight here at the moment as TB has meant we haven’t been able to sell a calf since July so I will pay for the tyres with my card and spread the cost over two or three months. We can’t stretch to a new set of tyres and pay the rent in the same month.

 

There’s always the temptation to make the tyres we have last a bit longer, but our slurry tanker is quite heavy when full and if something went wrong and you had bald tyres, anything could happen. I think that that particular theory drives a lot of things these days, being blamed if something goes wrong. I’m sure it is an issue with the NHS.

 

I’m sure there are people in A&E and people phoning ambulances that don’t need to and 50 years ago they would have been told in no uncertain terms to stop wasting other people’s time. Now they get that time, just in case they are genuine.

 

There used to be a young local lad who would scour our silage pit if he needed ‘new’ tyres on his van. He mostly did it on Saturdays and then he would fit them himself at the local garage because they would let him use their trolley jacks.

 

One Saturday afternoon he was fitting these tyres and a young man he didn’t know called in for petrol. At the time he was having difficulty hammering a tyre onto a rim. The stranger asked if it would help if he put his foot on the rim to stop it moving about. He helped him put three tyres on and whilst he was there he casually asked where the tyres came from as there wasn’t much tread on them.

 

My friend explained that he had ‘rescued’ them off a silage pit where they were used to hold a plastic sheet down and that he would get about three months use out of them.

 

When the job was completed they both went their separate ways and my friend was left thinking “I haven’t seen him before but what a nice man”.

 

He saw the man again the following Monday morning. He was wearing a uniform and driving a police car. My friend took Monday afternoon off work and went into town and had four new tyres fitted. The man was our new village policeman and he had moved in the previous Saturday!

 

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