This month, Roger Evans tells us how it is nigh on impossible to badger proof his buildings with stock wandering in and out at all times of day and night, and electric fencing all his fields would be an bigger task still.
As long as I can remember I have deliberately adopted a grumpy demeanour. As I have got older this has got easier and easier.
I’m not sure if this is because I have had plenty of practice or because grumpy is just natural to me.
I find that things that irritate me occur more often. I find lots of articles in the press that irritate me, and it has occurred to me that I might get upset too easily.
To remedy that, and to bring some order to it, when I can read an article that I think is so wrong that I’ll have to write about it, I cut it out and keep it a couple of weeks before rereading it just to see if it still has the same effect.
So here we go. There was a front page story in the Farmer’s Guardian a couple of weeks ago that said that farmers should take ownership of TB control. They should adopt better biosecurity. This comes from someone called James Russel who is some sort of TB representative. I’ve had the same sort of advice from Ministry vets.
We’ve just lost 14 young cattle to TB and they said they had isolated the source of infection as coming from badgers.
“Badger proof your yard and buildings,” he said. In early spring and late autumn our cows can come home at any time, day or night, to top their appetites up with the silage we put out on offer. All that would have to stop because if the cows can come home, so can the badgers.
Because we are now organic we don’t grow just as much grass as when we used fertiliser so we have extended the grazing platform to the ground we rent two miles away, and most weeks we bring fresh grass home on a zero grazing system. When there is fresh grass on offer the cows can come home at will, so we would have to stop that as well.
Most of our fresh grass and silage is fed at a barrier and eaten off the floor. I was advised to put it in mangers that I could badger proof as an important step to improving biosecurity. The only trouble is that at present we cart our feed out with a loader. If we had mangers we would have to buy some sort of feeder wagon to put silage or grass in there. Can you feel the cost of all this climbing, I can.
But we are not finished yet, not by a long way. “Of course,” he says, “you will need to raise the height of your drinking troughs both in fields and buildings so that badgers can’t drink out of them.”
This would be a big piece of work as the milking cows drink mostly out of big round tanks. They used to drink out of a stream but the Environment Agency stopped that in order to protect the fresh water mussels that live about 10 miles away.
At this point, if you were a sensitive person it would be easy to think that you were also a second class citizen. But all the tanks in our buildings and all the other tanks would have to be raised.
Finally I get a word in. “But what’s the point in all this expense if the badgers mix among the cows when they are at grass?” You can see where badgers have been when you fetch the cows for morning milking, as they leave their marks in the dew as they cover the ground turning over dung pats looking for grubs and worms. Besides, we have more than 20 fields and only three of them are not adjoined by a wood.
I’m not grumpy at the moment because some very good friends are calling and are going to take us out for Sunday lunch. But I remember ramping up the irritability a few notches at his reply. “You could easily electric fence every field so that badgers can’t get in there.” Now that makes me so cross.
To say ’easily’ means they have no concept of what is involved. I’ve seen the keepers fox proofing their pheasant pens with electric fences and they do that quite well, but those fences won’t stop a badger if he is so inclined. The badger is not necessarily after the poults, he is probably after the pheasant food but he will leave a gaping hole for the fox to get in and he will see to your poults.
I’ll tell you what will improve biosecurity. If I could send a couple of youths down the fields one night a month, with rifles and lamps. I’m not allowed to do that but it would be cheap and effective and until we are allowed to do that, this whole sorry mess will continue.
Putting my anger aside, the farmers and tractor drivers are in a tight group by the bar. One of the tractor drivers has got a new big tractor and he is telling them all about it. It must be good stuff because they are all listening, which is unusual as they are all like talking together, some even have their mouths open. As far as I can make out he has a guidance system that enables him to plough or mow a field so effectively that there is no double working and what I call ’short’ ground is kept to a minimum.
I don’t know why I am trying to explain this to you as I don’t understand it myself. The advancements of modern tractor technology left me trailing in its wake years ago. But the best is yet to come, you just have to be patient.
It seems he has lost the key but he’s too afraid to tell his boss. He’s hoping he has just mislaid it and that it will turn up. In the meantime he is able to start the tractor, which in turn starts all the computer wizardry that is included, by using the key like device that we are all familiar with and that we normally use to open a tin of corned beef!