Farmer calls for action over Bovine TB

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By Lewis_Clarke | Thursday, March 24, 2011, 13:21

DAVID Partridge has been in the farming business for forty-one years, but the last nine years have seen his farm become hit by bovine tuberculosis.

The 180acre Ennerleigh Farm in Washfield is surrounded by the rolling hills of the Exe Valley and is home to up to 1,000 cattle. The farm was bought by David in 1984 and is now managed by him and his son.

Work on the farm never stops, with working weeks ranging from 60 hours in the winter, to 130 in the summer months. Since the outbreak of TB on the farm, extra work is needed every 60 days when DEFRA come to test each and every cow.

The first case of bovine TB on Ennerleigh Farm was in 2002. Over 350 infected cattle have been slaughtered. The first David knew that the infection had hit his farm was after a routine test: "We found out we had three infected cattle on the farm" He said.

"We couldn't believe it. This parish was a clean area but within the same week of us going down with the disease, a neighbour also got infected.

"We didn't know where it had come from until we thought back to the previous summer when I was spreading fertiliser on a 12 acre field and noticed a very ill badger there."

Within a few years of Ennerleigh Farm being infected, it was only a matter of time before the whole parish suffered from the effects of bovine TB.

Measures were taken to try and prevent the disease spreading: "We were moved onto 60 day testing. In the following test, we only had one cow infected, then an inconclusive test, but after that it just seemed to erupt."

Although diseased cattle were regularly being taken away for slaughter, the farm is a closed herd and did not rely on livestock markets. Young heifers helped fill gaps left as infected cows were taken to be killed. Even though the farm remained stable TB did put a strain on the farm's production.

"When it got really bad, we lost so many cattle each time, and our milking herd decreased dramatically. At one stage it went down by 80 and we had to wait for heifers to come through the pipeline.

"Before each test you wonder how many will be infected this time.

"We got no moral support from the government apart from compensation. Even with compensation, if we wanted to replace the cattle it would cost in excess of £2,000.

Currently, the amount of compensation a farmer can claim on infected cattle depends on the cow's age and whether it is a pedigree and non-pedigree.

"Every cattle that is infected costs me around £1,000, but you also have to consider the time and effort that goes into the breeding process and how it stops attempts to improve the breed.

"In the summer of 2008, I challenged the government over table valuation in the High Court. With the backing of the National Farmers Union we won our case because it was very unfair that my cattle were being valued the same as somebody who had a screwy type of cow.

"The government appealed the day before their time for appeal ended. We had to go back to London and the government won. We won it outright the first time, and then we lost it outright. The way I see it, we were 1-1 but we were forced to draw a line under it there."

Despite bovine TB, the farm continued to increase the amount of cows it had. From a herd of 700 in 2002 it is nearly 1,000 today, but through this growth, TB has always been a problem.

"For the past nine years we have been tied with the disease all the time. We have never had a clear test which is annoying considering we are a closed herd."

Animal rights activists who are pleading to the government not to cull have also caused problems of their own.

"Six years ago we took on a farm in Morebath which is ten miles away. In 2007 I was informed that animal rights people were taking trapped badgers from North Devon, and releasing them onto the farm where I rear all my young stock.

"Through their actions, they've spread the disease to another now and done more damage. It makes me bitter because TB has cost me a lot of money."

Last year, a worker at the farm spotted a dead badger in a field with the sow's offspring running around: "This sow had got the disease so badly it had died, and the little ones were looking for some milk. People don't realise how TB affects badgers because most of them probably go underground to die."

David agrees with most other farmers in the country that it is the wildlife which is spreading bovine TB: "It is now in deer and it could well be in other species." He said. "I don't like how they're killing the black and white cow, but they seem reluctant to go out and kill the black and white badger.

"I know that a cow is worth more money than a badger, and we're living in a day and age where they say we're running out of food. By killing a cow, we're also killing off their offspring and their future generations."

While growing up, David saw his father deal with the TB outbreak of the 1950s and 60s and admits that the problem is a lot worse today: "It's worse now because the government are telling us we're not allowed to deal with the problem.

"Back in the 1950s farmers were appreciated, and they were allowed to deal with the badger problem by trapping and shooting them. We can't do this today because of laws protecting the animal.

"The disease is never going to go away until we tackle it head on. I can remember the public catching bovine TB then and if we're not careful, the same thing may happen today.

"If I had my way, every badger in the country would be sorted out."

Farmers had hoped that a new government led by the Conservatives would help speed up the process of dealing with a badger cull. Last year the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs visited the area and told farmers that there would be a cull.

"They're delaying a cull now, and I feel disappointed that they are messing us about." David added.

Trading Standards have told Mr Partridge that he can shoot a badger on his land if it is ill, but David says he wouldn't do that. However, he would allow somebody with more gun handling experience onto his land to cull badgers there.

As well as spreading bovine TB, David points out that badger sets provide an extra hazard: "The public think a set is just a hole in a hedge, but they tunnel down and under the fields.

"It has been known that farmers have been driving big machines across their land, when all of a sudden, a wheel collapses into the ground because of the set.

"One day, somebody is going to get seriously injured, and people will try and blame it on the farmers for not realising where he was driving."

Despite the problems of bovine TB on the farm, David doesn't let it affect him: "I just accept life and get one with it." He says.

"An 86-year-old friend who has known me all my life told me that I just seem to be able to get on with whatever life throws. In life, you've got to get on with it haven't you.

"I'm not sentimental about it. Getting upset is not in my nature, but you do feel disappointed that you've worked hard and bred a particular cow, and then they're taking it away because of the infection.

"I've seen grown men cry about this, but you have to concentrate on your own farm. It's not a disease to be ashamed of like mastitis. This is a disease farmers aren't allowed to deal with.

"You've got to get on with life and learn to deal it."

      

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