3 Nov 2010, 6:06 PM
Previous tests had been undertaken by Animal Health but for our latest test, we were advised we had to use our vet. The latest test was due and in August we had a final reminder (recorded delivery) giving us until September to make the arrangements. Three of us have to take two days off work for each test so it is very difficult to fit in with our existing work and other commitments. Our vet had a six-week waiting list for the scheduled TB test because, we were told, there is so much testing currently being undertaken. We tried another local practice but they had an even longer waiting list. We finally agreed an appointment in October.
Our mature cattle are very difficult to handle with their very long horns. They are checked daily and look wonderful. They are calm in the field and follow well when being moved but they always seem to know if it is testing time. We have now spent well over £3000 on additional handling equipment, which is used only for these tests. All the equipment is new, portable and replaced our previous set up. The new equipment was selected (following advice) as the most appropriate for handling cattle with horns. The crush was designed specifically for the breed we had.
On 18th October the vet’s receptionist telephoned soon after 9am to ask if we were ready for the test that afternoon at 2pm. We were very surprised as we had it down for the following week. However, we said we were anxious to get it over and done with so we were happy to proceed. The receptionist stressed they would not come out until they penned and we should keep in touch re progress.
Two of us went out immediately and started preparing the equipment (this took nearly two hours) and got everything ready. We placed our aged vehicles in appropriate places (dumper, tractor and JCB) and got all the handling equipment ready - with hurdles to funnel them in and temporary fences to add length to the handling area. The crush was checked carefully to ensure it was working correctly. At around 11am one of us went to fetch the cattle (the test was scheduled for 2pm). They had to be moved through three fields and this process went well, as is usually the case when they are moved. However, the last field they entered was full of lush grass so they were reluctant to follow or move from this area so we decided to let them eat some grass and went back into the house to get a drink.
We returned a short while later and tried to walk the cattle from the field again but it was at this point they must have realised something was up. It is a very difficult time of year to test as they are not hungry (having plenty of good grass available), so cannot be lured with hay. We tried to bring them in via the two route options available but each time we got them to the gates they would veer back. We did this several times and eventually managed to get them into the narrow track leading to the handling equipment. We got them well down the track but when they saw the dumper, blocking one of their escape routes, the front ones turned round and they all started heading for the person who who was at the rear. The track was very narrow and a lot of yelling and wielding a stout stick got them round again. However, again they would not go down the track and again they turned back and ran at her. No amount of yelling or stick waving would make the front ones change course so she had no option but to try and retreat back down the track, with them following as the sides were too steep to climb up. She was very anxious but tried to hide this so they did not pick it up. Had she tripped she may well have been trampled. They are not nasty animals but when they are under stress they are totally unpredictable and we were unsure whether they would charge and trample anyone in their way. She had to find an area she could scramble up the steep bank to allow them past. It was a terrifying experience.
We then had to drive the dumper further away so it could not be seen by the cattle on the next attempt to get them down the track, but as this was what we would be using for the final rounding up, we could not move it far. We tried again and failed. The same thing happened. By now we were getting very stressed as we knew we had a tight deadline from the vet. One of us went back to the house and the phone was ringing. It was the vet. We advised we could not guarantee we would get them in by the 2pm appointment time (although we still had an hour to go). They refused to send out the vet until they had confirmation we had got them in. We were told to ring when we had them all penned.
We tried once more using the above method, but again failed. We did not really want to use vehicles to round them up as it is very stressful for the animals and it churns up the fields badly, making deep ruts, which are a hazard for both animals and humans. However, by this stage, we then knew we were running out of options so we decided we had no alternative but to adopt the procedure adopted by Animal Health when they failed to round them up by hand. One of us rounded them up with the tractor and slowly brought them down to the handling area, having to go round the other track so they were not so aware of where we were taking them. It was a long and arduous process as he kept losing them, but he eventually managed to get them down the track with the tractor. He then jumped out of the tractor so another of us, in the dumper, could then coerce them forward towards the pen. One of us, great risk, had to walk alongside them to stop any turning back. He had to shout loudly and manually shove at them to get them into the pen - it looked very dangerous as their heads were thrashing around. It was nearly 3pm when we got them in. One of us went in and phoned the vet. She was advised they would send a vet as soon as they could. It was stressed they had horns which could do significant damage to each other and were not used to being in a small pen all contained together. The receptionist could not say when a vet could come as she said we had missed our scheduled appointment. We could do nothing but wait. The cattle were not happy being penned. They were pushing at the bars and some of the more dominant ones were bullying the others. We checked them every ten minutes. With the Animal Health staff the cattle were tested as soon as they had all entered the pen and there were plenty of us around to help keep them from bullying each other.
At 4.20 the cattle were getting very restless. They would not touch the fresh hay we had put in for them (they usually love hay). There was no sign of the vet so one of us telephoned and was told a vet would be with us in 15 to 20 minutes. The vet finally arrived at 5pm but by then our oldest, and smallest cow had sustained an injury to her nostril (probably from being poked with a horn) and there was a lot of fresh blood on the ground and all over one of the hurdles. She was desperate to get away from the others. Another of the females had a cut on its rear end. At this stage we noticed that one side of the hurdles had been lifted by the cattle so two of the bottom pins were out and the pen could easily have become insecure. Clearly, this equipment, although expensive and supposedly appropriate, leaves a lot to be desired when handling animals with long horns. They can physically lever up these fences with their horns. As we have said before, the hurdles are new and were recommended to us as the best solution for penning any kind of cattle.
The vet arrived and had driven in through our farm entrance gate (which he left open) and parked right up to where the cattle were, despite the fact that he had passed through the neighbour's dairy yard on the way in and probably been to other farms. He did not disinfect. He seemed anxious to get it all done as quickly as possible but he did not help get them into the crush. He wasn't dressed for this anyway as he wore trainers and shorts. As he was a stranger, he did spook them. Probably because of this we only managed to get one animal into the crush, dealt with by the vet and through. We kept trying to get the others through as by now the hurdles and scaffold tubes we were using were covered in muck and very slippery. So were our hands. There were several near misses for the operators, with the scaffold pole we were using to try and move the cattle forward. Time was moving on so we had to try another method. We closed the penning area into a narrow corridor. This, in fact, offered new risks as the penning area became very fragile, as it got narrower, with five large, strong beats contained within it. The vet then ran nimbly up and down the line clipping hair and injecting any animals that presented themselves near the fence until he was happy they were all dealt with.
At the end of the day one of us had sustained cuts to one leg, from slipping on muck and falling against one of the scaffold tubes. It could have been much worse. One was in agony as a result of a long-term neck injury that flares up after a lot of physical exertion and stress and one had an upset stomach for much of the week, which she put down to the stress. Two of us are well into our 50s and so suffered physical exhaustion too from the day's efforts and the usual aches and pains that result.
We then had to repeat the process three days later for the reading of the test. The day before we had a re-think and considered how the previous rounding up of the cattle had gone - badly. We needed a better method. We decided to relocate the hurdles and the crush to a different area of the farm with the hope that the cattle would not associate the area with the previous session and so may be rounded up more easily. This time we erected it along the length of a track with steep sides so the hurdles were almost against the lane sides and ran parallel to each other. We blocked all gaps with temporary posts and gates, plus vehicles. This preparation work took us nearly three hours.
The day of the test reading we started getting ready to round them up at 12.30. We had not heard from the vet and so did not know what the arrangements were. We telephoned and were told we had an appointment for 2pm! We hoped it would be easier this time as they were in the field adjoining the track where the equipment was now located. We decided to use the dumper to round them up once we had got them in the lane to lessen the risk to us in case one of the cattle decided to make a run for it.
One of us sat in the dumper at the end of the track ready to drive them down towards the penning area as soon as all six were in the track. One of us sat in the tractor on the open section we had not been able to block properly (a long length) to ensure they did not get through this area and this was back up too in case the dumper failed (our vehicles are old). It was a long job getting them from the field and into the track (about an hour) as they kept veering away from the entrance, but eventually they went into the track. The dumper sprang into life as soon as they were in the track. The gate was closed and they were slowly forced down the track with the dumper. One of us had to ensure any gaps between the dumper and track side were covered so they could not barge through. When they reached the hurdles the dumper moved as far in as possible and one of us closed the hurdles (binding them tightly with baler twine) behind the dumper so if they did squeeze past they would still be penned. The one in the dumper, then did his best to stop any bullying whilst one of us phoned the vet to advise them they were ready. It was 1.45pm and we stressed they had long horns, were not used to being handled and two had sustained injuries when previously penned, so could the vet come as soon as possible. The appointment was for 2pm and the vet had not arrived. As time went on they got restless and were using their horns on the hurdles. We discovered that two of the pins had come out of one of the bottom locations on either side of the crush. The cattle had lifted the hurdles with their horns. Two of us struggled to get the animals back enough to take the pressure from the hurdles so we could get the pins back in. We then tied up the top and bottom as best we could, with baler twine, as a safeguard to try and prevent the pins coming out again. It was very risky because it was difficult to avoid the long horns. The vet finally arrived at 2.30pm. He did apologise for being late but we were, by now, very stressed ourselves.
We asked the vet to confirm that, as with our previous tests, he had made the necessary arrangements and would immediately euthanize if any proved to be reactors. Animal Health had not advised the procedure would be any different. We were concerned when he informed us he could not do this as any animal had to be valued. We said we were not concerned about valuations, the welfare of our animals was more important and we explained the procedure that Animal Health had put in place for our previous tests. We suggested he telephoned Animal Health for further advice but he refused to do this. He even said he would have to refuse any instructions we gave to him, as our vet, as he was acting for and being paid by Animal Health, not us, despite the fact we said we would pay. His manner was obnoxious and unreasonable. We were all shocked at his attitude. We were under a great deal of pressure and had put in a lot of time and effort for this test. We were sure they would all pass as they all looked in such good condition, being checked carefully every day, so one of us suggested we put them through and hope for the best. There was not a good atmosphere. The vet stood by and did not help at all to get them into the crush. We struggled to get the first one through. In the end we only managed to do this by one of us opening up one of the front yolk gates as if we were letting her through, but then she had to shut the doors quickly without being speared by the horns. This first cow passed (the vet did not use calipers) and was let out. We then struggled to get another one lined up to go through. The equipment became slippery and covered in muck. Eventually we got our largest male lined up and again, the only way he would enter was if one of us opened one of the front yolk gates. Again this was very risky but we felt there was no option. The pressure was on for us to get this over and it was clear the vet wanted it done as quickly as possible, with as little input form him as possible.
Our largest male is a long animal in the body and we struggled to get the back gate closed but eventually managed this. The vet again stood watching and did nothing to help. He felt the two sites and said he would need to measure the lumps. He seemed to spend ages trying to measure and we became worried as the animal seemed to have slipped and was getting lower and lower in the crush. As he got lower his head soon became stuck between the gap between the front yolk doors. One of us said we should open the side gates so the vet could get better access to the test site, but the vet said no. He said he thought this animal may be an IR and had to measure him again. One of us asked how much he was over and the vet said it looked like only 1mm. We asked asked how he could be sure as he did not take the first day’s measurement and remarked that passing/failing depends on such very small measurements and it was highly likely each vet would apply different pressure on the calipers. He tried again to measure but was obviously having problems doing this properly. We were angry as we could see our animal suffering. His head was, by now, even lower and his body was too. One of us then got really angry and said we should abandon this test and get the animal out of the crush. He said Animal Health did a much better job. The vet said they did not as they used lay testers, not vets. He said the only reason DEFRA uses vets is because it is cheaper for them. It was getting unpleasant but the vet just stood there and then asked - didn't we think TB was a serious problem? This was red rag to a bull. We wanted to get our animal out of the crush and the vet did not seem to care and was, in fact, more interested in one of the comments one of us made as we were so frustrated at his lack of concern. The vet's attitude was totally uncaring and unprofessional - not what we would have expected from a vet employed to work on behalf of a government department.
By now the cow’s face was turned upwards and his eyes revealed suffering. We worked to get him out of the crush as quickly as possible. They had to dismantle parts of it as he was by now on his stomach, held only by his head with his back legs sticking out horizontally at awkward angles, under the closed back gates. It took quite a while to encourage him to stand but luckily, eventually he was able to get up himself and he walked off into the field. When they had got him out and released the other four, we discovered that the front yolk door was completely buckled where his head had jammed and there was a large hole behind the crush where his hooves had dug into the ground as he had got lower and lower. This was a brand new crush and specially designed for horned cattle. We later contacted the supplier who got the manufacturer to ring us. They are sending replacement parts and getting someone to come out and check it over to see if we can find out why it happened.
After we had checked that all the cattle were in the field and okay, my husband telephoned Animal Health to explain what had happened and he agreed to write in with these full details. The person he spoke to didn't think it was good practice to send two different vets for the same test but she said that if we were not happy with our vet we had to take it up with the practice, despite the fact that the vet told us he was acting for Animal Health, not us.
The following day a Notice Prohibiting Movement of Bovine Animals was received from our vet. We never move our animals and are happy to stay on permanent movement restriction, which is another reason why all this testing on our very small herd is so unnecessary.
We are extremely unhappy. Under the Animal Health Act we are duty bound to care for our animals and be responsible for their well-being. We know that putting horned animals together into a confined space for any length of time will give rise to injuries, yet, using our own veterinary practice, we had no alternative but to do this. The vets are paid for their work and we assume it brings them in good income, particularly at this current time of ever frequent testing. We do not get paid anything at all for the hours we have to spend on all this and, in fact, lose income, as we have to take time off work. We receive no income from our cattle, as they are not commercial. Of even greater concern is that no consideration is given to the health and safety aspects or the stress caused to us, or our animals. Our animals are non-commercial, we are confidant they do not pose a risk to any commercial herds as they are kept well away from other farm animals. They are carefully checked every day.
This failed test, by our own veterinary practice, rather than Animal Health, who had done all the previous ones, raised several more questions. The vets were reluctant to offer any help in getting the animals through the crush. Is this because of health and safety issues? If so, then it is fair to force all the risk of such frequent testing on non-commercial cattle owner? Interestingly, with the early attempts to test back in the early 90's, we found the vets were farm more co-operative and they helped as much as they could to try and round up/pen animals up (although we all failed at these early tests).
On another point, cattle owners are expected to go through ever increasing bio security measures, yet the vets we have had visit the farm have taken no measures regarding disinfecting or keeping their vehicles away from our animals. Animal Health staff always disinfected thoroughly when they have visited our farm. We have never seen a vet do this on any of the occasions we have had them on the farm and they always want to bring their vehicle as close to the area involved as possible. Do they, therefore, as professionally qualified people dealing with disease daily, feel bio-security and disinfecting is not really necessary?
With regards to the testing procedure itself, the Animal Health staff helped and did not rush the process. They adhered to a set procedure, which seemed very rigid, including shaving the area to be injected with the tuberculin, rather than roughly clipping as the vet had done. The same member of staff was used for each test, which is surely imperative as the test relies solely on the pressure put on callipers when doing the measurement? In fact research has revealed that it is very important that the same person both injects and then evaluates the animal. According to Dr Ruth Watkins, on hearing about this test she said, 'The 1mm difference is not accurately measurable and I can't understand why that should be called an IR, if you are on severe reading I believe the difference should be 2mm for an IR (though I believe that to be too small for accurate measurement too).'
We have just six animals left. We were persuaded to get these animals many years ago by public officials who said grazing certain areas of our land with cattle was vital. We did not want to keep cattle but were told we had a duty to protect threatened native flora and fauna and 'there is no reason why you could not graze the land with cattle that are not part of 'the system' (letter dated November 1995). They are a closed herd kept for conservation purposes and are not commercial animals. They are kept well away from other livestock. This policy has no benefit whatsoever to us or our animals. It has serious and unacceptable health and safety risks. It is making our lives a misery and having a very negative effect on our family life. We have frequently pointed out the risks and our official complaints have been brushed aside. We are being forced into these procedures by the threatening of court action and high fines/costs. We are expected to keep testing our small herd of just six animals. Over the last fifteen months we have had to endure 5 tests (10 days of testing), despite the fact that bovine TB has not been confirmed in our herd.
We are very concerned that we are expected to take serious health and safety risks, yet there are many unanswered questions about the viability of the existing policy and WAG’s inflexible bTB eradication programme. Is the existing policy now having more of an adverse impact on human and cattle welfare than the risks from the disease it is aiming to control/eradicate? We are concerned too that it is not the health risk policy makers and so called experts would have us believe (Public health and bovine tuberculosis: what’s all the fuss about?’, Professor Paul R and Professor David J Torgerson). It is now quite clear to us that regardless of the standard of equipment, the collecting, penning and handling of horned cattle that are not used to regular handling, pose very serious health and safety risks that seem to be totally ignored by the powers that be in their strive to keep to their targets and political deadlines. It is clear that vets are not prepared to take such risks, so why should we?
Posted November 2010
Updated April 2011
It was not long after the failed test that we heard from Animal Health. It was agreed the last test was voided and we were told we had to have another urgently which Animal Health staff would arrange. We asked what had happened regarding the complaint about the last test and could we know the outcome but we were told this was confidential and we could not. The extreme weather conditions (snow and freezing conditions) meant the test was not arranged until January 2011. However, this did not stop the usual threatening in tone reminder letter from Animal Health just three days before Christmas. We were also told that they would not be prepared to euthanize any reactors on the day of the reading as they had done before. We were shocked and asked why. We were verbally told the legislation had been tightened and Animal Health was not there to provide a service to us. We sent a letter asking why the previously agreed procedure (which had been suggested initially by Animal Health) could not be used as this was really important to us as our animals were so difficult to pen. Without this procedure it meant we would have to round them up yet again with all the risks involved if any failed the test. We made a formal complaint but this was ignored and to date it has never been dealt with.
When we spoke on the phone regarding the January test the penning difficulties were yet again discussed with the person who was to undertake the test. He agreed he would bring colleagues along to assist.
Coincidentally the Saturday before the test one of us happened to meet Elin Jones, Minister for Rural Affairs,canvassing in the local town. She knew of our case and said she would look into the issue regarding the reluctance of Animal Health to adhere to their previously agreed euthanasia procedure. We never heard from her.
On the day of the scheduled test in January the tester was more than half an hour later than the appointment time but he did apologise. He only had a young female assistant with him. He said he was aware of our letters and AH responses but he could not help us and he stressed that neither would he be prepared to euthanise any reactors. He said he was fully conversant with our case. We asked if he understood the enormous stress that our family were under regarding this constant testing regime. He just shrugged his shoulders.
We pointed out to him and his young assistant that we would be at great risk should we try to proceed to try and round up these animals with so few helpers and under the circumstances we felt we had gone to such a lot of effort last time and failed, we were not prepared to attempt to pen them on our own. In addition:
1. We had an outstanding formal complaint which had not been resolved.
2. Animal Health were refusing to adhere to the previously agreed procedure they had offered to us in order to reduce the handling required, ie to humane slaughter of any reactors by euthanasia on the farm immediately after the test had been read.
3. There was not sufficient manpower to do this test and the Animal Health would not help.
We then reluctantly suggested that maybe Animal Health should default to the TB Order of Wales 2010 Act relating to dealing with animals that are difficult to handle as we were at our wit's end. But we were told this could not be done as the animals were not considered wild as they had been caught before and tested, albeit with great risk and difficulty. The male that had fallen and got stuck in the crush was still struggling to walk properly and it was clear he probably had permanent hip damage. Maybe one of us would be hurt next. We were not prepared to take this risk. We had spent hours preparing for the last test. We had all the new handling equipment, yet we had still failed and one of our animals had been badly injured.
The tester then said he would have to go back to his office and organise a great deal of equipment, manpower and muscle to re-visit our farm, capture the animals and carry out a compulsory test. Then any animals not found to be reactors would be released again back into our care for testing again regularly in the future using the same procedure, with reactors or second time inconclusives having to be penned up again and carted away on lorries to a slaughterhouse. He stressed that we would be charged thousands of pounds for this and the legislation had been tightened in this respect. Again we were told that Animal Health were not there to provide a service to us. So our family were TB test prisoners, totally at the behest of this crazy department that seems to interpret the law just how they wish.
When he and his assistant had left we telephoned Animal Health and were told policy had to be followed. Yet again we were told Animal Health were not there to provide a service to us and it was up to us to pen our animals for the test. We asked to speak to the person in charge. We were told this was the Regional Operations Director. He was apparently in but not at his desk. We were told he would ring us but he never did.
In meantime we rang Elin Jones, and spoke to her personal private sec. He said he was aware of our case and had been asked, that morning, by Jones to look into the case but hadn't yet. He said he would deal with it and get back to us. He never did. A few days later we wrote to Elin Jones setting out the full history and problems we were having. We never heard from her. Despite reminders, she did not even bother to acknowledge the correspondence.
We were at our wit's end and so again rang the Farm Crisis Network (FCN). We had family illness and were under enormous pressure from various directions, we just did not know what we could do. The FCN representative then liaised with Animal Health and WAG TB Team over the next couple of weeks on our behalf and tried to help but the threats of forced testing, legal action and costs continued. Some suggestions were made but we had carefully considered each one before. Oddly we were told we could move them untested under license to another premises if we could get someone else to have them but who would want to take on elderly cattle who were so hard to handle? Neither did we want them moved off the farm to a location where they may be treated badly or kept in a confined space. A deadline was set and there was no alternative for us but to take the awful decision to slaughter our animals. Animal Health/WAG would not arrange this and the FCN representative persuaded us to get in a marksman so we did not have to round them up. She said knew one that had dealt with similar cases. She said he was so good he could move around a herd and shoot an animal and the rest of the herd did not flinch.
We said our goodbyes to the herd on the morning he arrived. They were content and eating hay, undisturbed by our presence. It would have been better for us if they had looked sickly so we could better justify what was going to happen. Despite all being considered old animals they looked wonderful, with their shiny red coats and despite a long, hard, cold winter they were all a good weight. As we said our good byes we could not stop the tears rolling.
The shooting was not easy. The gun was very loud and the others did know what was happening and they did try and get away. It was horrendous for us and for them. We made ourselves watch as we had made this decision and we have to live with this for the rest of our lives. Shortly after we had to use our dumper to drag their lifeless, bleeding bodies though three fields one by one and on to the lorry that Animal Health arranged to take them away for postmortems and checked for TB. This is the side of farming we wanted no part in. We were originally told our cattle could be kept out of the system. We now know they can't and it is not possible to keep such animals as sentient creatures. It became increasingly clear to us that officials treat cattle purely as a commodity and there is little real concern for their welfare, with the emphasis instead on hypothetical disease risks, adhering to policy, targets and deadlines, regardless of the negative consequences for the animals and owners involved. There is no flexibility within the policy and there is allowance made for low risk herds. If we had known all this we would never have been persuaded to get cattle. If anything has been learnt from our case we hope that government officials, in future, do not encourage people to get cattle without making it very clear regarding the amount of bureaucracy and interference owners are expected to put up with and the legal requirements of such. It is also important to be aware of the amount of expensive handling equipment that is needed and how important it is to get cattle that can be rounded up easily. For those who care about the environment, having to have huge amounts of equipment (mainly steel with its high embodied energy) that is only used occasionally goes against one's principles.
The passports were duly returned. We were told none had any signs of bTB. We have lost our grazing animals so we do not know what effect this will have on our land. We have also lost our main source of manure (we grow our own fruit and vegetables). Our cattle caused us a lot of problems but it was not their fault and we really miss them. The farmland seems very empty now and gone is the wonderful smell that surrounded them. However, after four years ongoing misery for our family, we can now get on with our lives and we do mot miss the regular letters and pressure from Animal Health, although shortly afterwards we got various letters from them, including one we found in particularly bad taste as it related to the male that was allegedly inconclusive according to the vet at the failed test. It told us not to test this animal again until further notice. We ignored it. Oh, and by the way, in addition to having to cope with the loss of our cattle, we received no compensation, had to pay our own costs and will lose a lot of money on the equipment we no longer need.