This month Roger Evans tells us about his pending TB test with the fear of being closed down again, and on a personal note lets us into his well-kept red sock secret.
We’ve been clear of TB for six months now. It’s been six months of freedom. Freedom to move stock and to sell it as we will.
You quickly forget all the negatives that come with being closed down, the biggest for us being the inability to sell calves and the dilemma of what to do with them.
If there are lessons to be learned from being closed down, one painful financial lesson we learned was not to take calves to a restricted TB market. The TB restricted market may be a quick fire way of getting rid of all those calves you have filling every spare corner, but the financial hit on your cash flow lasts a whole lot longer.
But time moves on and your six-month whole herd test looms up. And as the due date approaches you start to remember all those negatives you had conveniently tried to forget, and your mind starts to be preoccupied with all the ‘what ifs’. Especially what if we fail?
We are taking a hit on milk price right now, and we don’t need to lose the calf income as well.
We had already enquired of our baling contractor if he could wrap big square bales of straw in plastic in order to make temporary calf pens. The talk in the pub as to who has gone down and who has gone clear takes on greater significance. Fail and pass seem to be in equal proportion, with some significant fails occurring quite frequently, but there’s little pattern to it and no comfort to be had there.
I know a vet who was telling me of his theory on the TB problem. He reckoned 20% of the issue was down to inadequate testing. By inadequate he meant if there were 10 affected animals in your herd, present testing was only removing say eight of them, and that two would remain in the herd to infect others. Moving eloquently on, well it doesn’t get more eloquent than a vet with half a pint of red wine in his hand in a Twickenham car park, he said testing should be more rigorous. If we are to find all of those 10 affected animals we might have to remove 15 in order to get them, which means we have to be prepared to lose five ‘clear’ animals in the process.
At first scrutiny that seems to be quite a big ask, but if you think about it, it could be a clear case of taking big hits rather than a long, long succession of small ones. The more you think about it, the more sensible it sounds. But here comes the but. But how much bovine TB is caused by wildlife,” I ask. About 20% as well he tells me. I don’t know where he gets that figure from but I suspect it could be a finger in the air guess. It is a figure I suspect no one really knows.
Scientists might come up with figures but there is no reason why their figures are more accurate than those put forward by my farmers in the pub, whose figures I should add are much higher than 20%. And there lies the dilemma. What would be the point of sending 15 animals to slaughter to get the 10 with TB if the herd is exposed to further infection on a regular basis from wildlife. No point at all. No point in shutting the gate behind some cattle if there’s a big hole in the hedge.
So as my whole herd test approaches, all this sort of stuff is going through my head. Two days to go and I try to convince myself we will fail. This is based on the theory that if we do fail it won’t be such a big disappointment, and if we pass it will be a huge, pleasant surprise.
But help is at hand from an unexpected source, although I’ve never been superstitious. It’s true I do wear red socks to Wales’ rugby matches and it’s true I have a red comb that always finds its way in to my back pocket on the same days, but me superstitious?
Definitely not! But Sunday comes and we are testing tomorrow, and I’ve discovered you can get quite good horoscopes in the Mail on Sunday. Sometimes they are so good they can keep your spirits up until the alarm goes on Monday morning. So let’s have a look.
“Neptune is in strong union with Uranus, this is highly beneficial to you. Nothing at all can go wrong for you this week!” And we passed the TB test!
Life for a dairy farmer doesn’t get much better than that. And isn’t it a sad state of affairs in the whole sorry TB issue that when you go through all the pre-test agonies of wondering if you will pass, that no one can predict how you will get on, and your horoscope is just as likely to be right.
There’s a vintage tractor club near to here. They do lots of tractor runs in the summer at which they raise money mostly for the Air Ambulance because of its obvious link to people like them who spend their working lives in fields in remote rural locations. We entertained them here for morning coffee one Sunday and a convoy of 51 old tractors turned up. Never, ever in the wildest of my dreams, did I expect to have so many scraper tractors on my yard at one time!