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'It was absolutely horrific' - heartbroken farmer loses 50 cows to botulism

A dairy farmer who lost 50 cows to botulism within a matter of days has urged others to vaccinate against the toxin.



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James Stephenson likened the scenes in his shed to that of a ‘horror film’, with cows quickly being paralysed, as the disease, which attacks the nervous system, took hold.

 

Mr Stephenson, from Clitheroe, Lancashire, first saw signs of the disease on a routine lunchtime check of the herd, predominantly Holstein-Friesians, and found one cow dead in the passageway.

 

He said: “Another cow was floppy and weak. I rang the vet who came to do a post-mortem and in that time another two had fallen.

 

“In just a few minutes, the floppy cow had died. It continued like that and, by Monday, 38 were dead.

 

“I do not think anything can prepare you for it – it was absolutely horrific.


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“Our cows are like pets to us and to see them in such a state is heartbreaking.”

 

Some cows were injected with an anti-inflammatory and penicillin, but Mr Stephenson said it seemed to accelerate the disease.

 

He added: “We tried to care for the cows by feeding them charcoal and even burnt toast to try to attempt to absorb the toxin, but with no success.”

 

Other cows which showed advanced signs were euthanised, with only one cow in the affected high yielding herd, a Montbeliarde cross, remaining unscathed.

Dry cows and the low yielders, which were housed about 15ft away at the other side of the shed were not affected.

 

Tests on feed have all come back negative, but Mr Stephenson said it was likely silage fed to cows had been contaminated with dead game or poultry birds, which are prolific carriers of the bacterium clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism.

 

In total, Mr Stephenson, who farms in partnership with his father Jim, lost 47 high yielding milkers and three bulling heifers out of the 80-strong herd. He is now working with his vet to source a vaccine for his remaining cattle.

 

Mr Stephenson said: “Speaking to a lot of our friends and colleagues, this is extremely rare, but it could happen to anyone and awareness is vital. My advice would be to vaccinate. I will be vaccinating all my cattle from now on.”

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