26 Feb 2011, 11:00 AM
2010 was not a good year for a Monmouth farming couple. Following a bTB herd breakdown they had to witness 23 cattle of their cattle (including six calves) shot dead in a pen together without any segregation. The cattle had failed a third TB test. The severe trauma to the couple was revealed in following statements they made to the National Union of Farmers and later published in various online news reports. These reveal the true horrors of the existing policy both to the cattle owners and their animals.
"When you load cattle on to a lorry to be sent off for slaughter you feel as though you've done the best for them. But it's hard to reconcile that with witnessing them being shot by contractors in a pen on the farm."
"Following two clear tests, our latest TB test was on September 27. It showed 22 cattle as reactors or inconclusive and after cultures were taken for analysis we were told that the animals would be taken for slaughter. However, due to the fact that the cows were very heavy in calf, it was decided that an on-farm slaughter would take place. This was carried out on October 14 when 13 cows, four yearlings and six two and three-month-old calves were shot in the pen.
The whole procedure was so traumatic. We feel that not enough emphasis is given to the stress placed upon farmers at times like this and, more particularly, the stressful way in which the animals had to be slaughtered.
"After the first one was killed there was obviously a great deal of panic amongst the remaining cattle. Some of the cows were very heavy in calf and, in fact, one of them had calved the previous night. The result now is that there are eight young calves that had to be hand reared and three cows that have had their calves taken from them."
"The fact that we had gone through two clear tests is important because, following those tests, the cattle were placed in a field which we know is close to badger setts in the nearby woods. We are now very, very reluctant to put any cattle into this block of land.
"The bulk of our land is surrounded by woods and we have been so distressed by this latest episode that we are seriously considering changing our farming policy by selling the cattle and replacing them with sheep."
The farm concerned is a 400 acre, traditional organic farm. It is not run intensively and has around 350 head of cattle. It has been organic for a number of years. Normally it is a closed herd of 85 suckler cows plus followers and some bought-in organic store cattle for fattening but due to the recent herd breakdown as a result of TB they are now down to around 50 cows. The majority of the cows are Limousin-Cross breed and are put to a Limousin bull.
A concerned member of the public was appalled at the manner in which these animals had been killed. Animal Health apparently looked into the matter and advised there was no other formal investigation held in relation to the case. The person concerned made a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (dated 10 February 2011). This elicited the following response from the Welsh Assembly Government.
A licensed slaughterman was contracted to carry out on farm slaughter of the
23 animals. A contract exists between Animal Health and the slaughterman to conduct on-farm slaughter of TB reactors. Slaughtermen must be competent and hold a Registered Licence issued by the Food Standards Agency (previously the Meat Hygiene Service). It is an offence to cause or permit an animal avoidable excitement, pain or suffering, anyone conducting the slaughter of animals must have the knowledge and skill to do their job humanely and efficiently.
The killing on farm of cattle that are reactors to a test for bovine tuberculosis is only carried out when such killing is a better way of assuring the welfare of the animals. Such situations include cattle that are heavily pregnant or animals that may be otherwise unfit to transport for killing or slaughter elsewhere. While there needs to be adequate facilities for the safe and humane handling of animals killed on farm, the process of killing in such situations removes the stress of transportation and it is assumed that farmers who have the welfare of their animals as a paramount importance would welcome such a process.
Alternative methods of killing on farm are available, the keeper should liaise with Animal Health who in turn will liaise with the local vet to arrange for slaughter by lethal injection at the farmers expense.
When animals are killed on farms or at knackers' yards, Animal Health monitors welfare.
Animal Health is responsible for follow up reports and allegations of poor practice and, when necessary, instigates investigation with a view to prosecution.
Sources of information: