TB or not TB: that is the question Print this pagePrint this page

April 9, 2020, feels like the end of a long and painful journey. We finished TB-testing our old English longhorns and we’re almost literally jumping for joy. All the cattle are clear and we’re now back to four-yearly testing – the normal procedure for low risk TB areas in the UK. It’s not a particularly serious disease for the cattle, at least in the short-term. They can live with it for quite a while without adverse effects, though it is a progressive disease so the older the animal (which isn’t that old in the conventional meat and dairy industry) and the longer it has had it, the more likely it is to experience unpleasant symptoms. The main reason for culling all TB-infected cattle, or even those suspected of having it, is to try to eradicate the disease entirely. Discovering TB in your herd strikes dread into the heart of any farmer. So it was with horror that, three years ago, we were notified by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) that a cow had reacted positively to TB on a farm a stone’s throw from Knepp. When this happens APHA draw a three-kilometre circle around the farm in question and any holding that falls within that zone – even if it’s just a corner of a field - has to test all their cattle. We were stunned. Our part of West Sussex has long been TB free. Most dairy farms in our area have closed herds, breeding their own replacements. But with the spring flush of grass many farmers and landowners see an opportunity to import beef animals to graze their land, fattening them up – or ‘finishing’ them – for market. They contact local dealers who organise the transport of store cattle from markets at Salisbury, Exeter and Frome. Those defending the trade argue that animals leaving the West Country will have been compulsorily tested for TB. But the test, which involves injecting two types of tuberculin serum into the neck skin to elicit an inflammatory response in an infected animal, is not infallible. Research estimates that 25-50% of recurrent TB breakdowns are due to infected cattle not being detected by the skin test. Inevitably, TB-infected animals slip through the net and enter the live markets. And the infection can be spread in other ways – on the wheel arches of livestock lorries or even the traders’ wellington boots. This high-risk trade in cattle from the West Country not only threatens the livelihood of responsible dairy and beef farmers in low-risk areas like ours, but it could risk the disease spilling out into badgers and deer, which could ultimately involve a wildlife cull - something that particularly concerns us at Knepp, being primarily a nature conservation project. The above is just extracts from this very interesting blog at: https://knepp.co.uk/new-blog/2020/4/16/tb-or-not-tb-that-is-the-question


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