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Good Evans: 'It's not good news on the TB front, I'm afraid'

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Where were we last time we spoke? Three days into the four days of a TB test, that is where we were if I recollect. This one was a 60-day test because a couple of months previously we had an in-calf heifer reactor at our annual testing.

 

Just as background, we had been clear for several years before that. I admit to being wound up on a regular basis by the steady drip of anti badger-cull letters that find their way into our local press, which blame all this TB debacle on farmers and their cavalier attitude to biosecurity and their irresponsible movement of cattle.

 

Just for the record, we have only brought one animal onto our farm in seven or eight years and our cattle do not contact any neighbour’s cattle.

 

In fact, a vet told us they could do tests on reactors to determine where their TB came from, and they were more than 90% sure that the in-calf heifer was infected by wildlife about two months ago. Have you noticed that professional people never give a 100% opinion.

 

You never get a solicitor for example who says that you will 100% win a dispute, neither for that matter will he say you haven’t got a hope of success. So when that vet said he was more than 90% sure, that’s about as sure as he is going to get. I don’t get involved in the actual testing anymore, not quick enough on my feet, so I was in the house when my son and grandson returned from testing.

 

I heard one go to the loo and the other put the kettle on, but neither said anything. Inevitably I had been thinking about the test all morning and I had convinced myself that the heifer which had failed was just a blip and we would go clear. When no information was forthcoming I had to ask.

 

Fourteen reactors! I don’t think they had told me right away because there was an element of shock involved. Truth be told, I think the whole family is still in shock. The reactors were across the age range, and the hardest hit were a group of young heifers which we were to bull after Christmas.

 

My son tells me that some of the reaction lumps were so big it was as if someone had put a bottle of calcium under their skin! A TB breakdown on this scale and a low milk price is just what we don’t need at present. So we have moved a few calves to one of these TB facilities but there are still calves everywhere.

 

It seems that the badger cull is working but it is a reactive measure, it’s following the TB problem as it moves up the country. It is just waiting for the problem to get worse in some areas and then to deal with it.

 

Why don’t they take a geographical leap and get in front of it and work back towards the culls areas we presently have? The 25-year target is appalling in its ambition. Twenty-five years is a generation! The eldest grandson is showing signs of being a farmer.

 

Is my son to be sitting in this chair in 25 years time and waiting for his son and a possible grandson to come in with the results of a TB test? My good friend the keeper has these cameras which take a photo when something moves across their line of vision.

 

He uses it to see if there are any foxes about, and he reports four deer regularly visiting the young heifers at night. They could carry TB. No-one seems to mind if you cull the deer, so why do they get so agonised if you cull the badgers? A badger’s life style is far more likely to foster the spread of TB than deer, but we need to check on both species.

 

There’s no check on either at present. Those cameras of the keeper’s are a good thing to borrow. We’ve had one trained on the diesel tank.

 

We’ve not caught anyone taking diesel but we have got a good picture of someone hanging a jacket over the lens. All we have to do now is identify the jacket! Just as a matter of interest, have you noticed how scavengers rarely eat away at badger carcases on the side of the road?

 

Yet road kill is surely an important food source for your scavenger. At this time of year there’s lots of pheasants run over around here as they are always milling around on the road looking for grit and acorns. Then there are the rabbits which are run over in the night as well. If you were a scavenger, a trip down the road at first light must be the thing to do. But your badger carcase will be there, untouched, for days.

 

It will ‘gas’ up until it is bloated and it then usually gets splattered all over the road by the back wheels of an artic and it will soon disappear as successive vehicles repeat the exercise. Anti-badger cull enthusiasts like to infer that these badger road kill carcases are in fact shot by farmers and dumped on the road, as a good way of getting rid of them.

 

Could be some truth in that, but if I shot a badger I would not go anywhere near a road with it, you never know who is about. One of the saddest or the funniest things I have seen lately, according to your point of view, is a dead badger lying on the side of the road with a helium balloon tied to its front leg.

 

‘Get well soon’, it said!

Dairy Farmer
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