A Gloucestershire farmer's perspective Print this pagePrint this page

I've always run my own farm on the basis that, while I may have chosen to farm livestock and manage my land in a particular way, I would consider it a complete failure on my part if I could only make my business succeed by killing all the wild animals that interfered with my plans. We are meant to be the most intelligent of all the species and it is a sad reflection on farmers in general if our first reaction in the 21st century is still to blast away rather than make every effort possible to prevent problems in the first place.

The most common route of infection with M. bovis in is by ingestion. Badgers, in common with many other animals, scent mark their territories with urine. So, putting two and two together, the least we should all be doing is making sure that our feed stores cannot be contaminated by other creatures including badgers and cats. If you feed salt and minerals outdoors then these should be in a high-sided container because there's nothing more attractive, even to your own dog, than a heap of something to wee up against. If you feed silage on the ground and it's not all cleared up in one session then you should be feeding in troughs instead. If the silage is taken from a pit, the pit should be covered up in between feeds. Feeding cattle at the silage pit behind electric fencing is clearly dodgy because the silage is left exposed and can be easily contaminated. Pouring waste milk into the slurry tank and then spreading that slurry onto your grass must be bad practice.

I could go on but safe to say that, on my numerous journies round the south west picking up dairy calves, there seem to be a number of basic, common sense practices which I can only assume must have dissolved over time. Unless we can show that we have done all we can in terms of safeguarding our stock against infection in the first place then we should be ashamed of ourselves for reaching for the gun for a quick fix instead.

My objective is to see changes made to the current policy with the aim of a long-term solution which will, first and foremost, benefit cattle farmers and their businesses. It is up to cattle farmers to assess these ideas, see how they could work in practice and decide if they would rather stick with Defra's 'test and slaughter' policy coupled with the continual decimation of badgers or whether they would prefer a 21st century farmer-led, cattle health scheme giving them back responsibility and control of their own herds, along the lines discussed in the paper produced by the group RethinkbTB - see http://rethinkbtb.org/rethink_documents/BTB_rethink_2nd_edition.pdf.

After all, it's no more than Defra are already offering the non-bovine sector in their bTB eradication programme document from July 2011 - http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13601-bovinetb-eradication-programme-110719.pdf :

"We will encourage better risk management, including a review of current arrangements for movement restrictions following a TB outbreak to see if these could be liberalised; encouraging the non-bovine sectors to investigate options for insurance; exploring the potential of vaccination and providing targeted information to those managing the highest risks.

We will work in partnership with each of the sectorsí representative bodies to help these industries become self regulating without unnecessary interference from Government, in line with our objectives on responsibility and cost sharing."

This is a perfect illustration of the level of concern with which we would react to bovine TB in all animals if it were not for the outdated EU directive aimed at cattle which stipulates unrealistic 'accelerated eradication' whilst banning the use of cattle vaccine at the same time.

We can't go on killing badgers when we should be changing the rules instead.

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