A farmer’s frustration with TB - Veterinary Practice
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A farmer’s frustration with TB

RICHARD GARD finds out how farmers are coping with the disease and the need for better understanding

THE current situation with Home
Farm demonstrates the jigsaw that
is TB.

This herd is made up of 170
milking cows and the calves are reared
as replacements or for beef. The time
taken to inject the total cattle stock of
500 head, for the skin test, has been 11
hours, involving four farm staff and
the vet. Reading the test takes nine
hours. Before a new
crush and handling
system was
installed the test
took two days and
the reading two
days. The farmer
estimates the
current cost of
farm wages for
each test and
reading to be £600.

Two bulls have
been slaughtered
because they
became dangerous
to put through the
testing process.
Since 2002, 25 of the
tests have yielded TB positive animals.
That’s 25 disappointments and periods
of anxiety, with the vet indicating that
the next test will be in 60 days’ time.

Over the past eight years 107
animals have been slaughtered as TB
positives. These include 58 cows, 21
beef (including a bull), four in-calf
heifers and 24 heifers. For a 10-month
period in 2008-09, the herd was “clear
of TB” and then one cow, then two
cows and then 41 animals were tested
positive and slaughtered, including 18

The compensation for the recent
slaughter was nearly £40,000 and the
farmer estimates that a further 40%
above valuation will be needed to buy
in replacements. As this is a closed
herd, no decision has been reached
about purchases and discussions are
taking place with his vet about the
likelihood of fresh animals
subsequently being TB positive.


The farmer considers it “madness” to
buy in, have them slaughtered and pay
out another 40% of value. He is also
concerned about buying in other
diseases with any replacements.

Following the removal of the culled
cows, the next monthly bonus payment
was withheld by the milk buyer (£700),
because the production did not match
the milk produced in the same month
the year before. The farmer declared
that he was “totally fed up with TB”.

Discussions followed with various
people, including the farm veterinary practice, and an assessment of badger
activity on the farm was arranged. The
assessment took four days and involved
neighbouring land covering a total area
of approximately two miles by two

Included in the assessment were
over 60 fields and 16 areas of copse or
woodland. Each hedge-line was looked
at on both sides for badger activity and territory marking, together
with the areas around the
farm buildings.

Five separate social
groups of badgers were
identified in the area,
with several setts in each
group. Three dead
badgers were found.
Over 100 badgers are
estimated to have access
to the land occupied by
the Home Farm cattle,
with clear territorial
divisions between the

Each social group
territory includes land on more than one farm. One
social group has clear boundary markings that include five fields and a
copse on Home Farm, although all the
setts are on the neighbouring farm.
Three other social groups are marking
their territory heavily with latrines, but
only a small area of woodland on
Home Farm forms part of their

Thirteen locations

There are 13 locations of badgers
within the Home Farm land. Some of
these locations and hideaways have
clearly been much more active in the
past but currently there are mostly one
or two badgers in each location with
one group of five badgers.

The badgers are mainly individuals
with no social community and no
territory marking. The total number of
these badgers exhibiting weak, abnormal badger behaviour is
estimated to be 15 to 20.

So, there is a total population of
100 badgers that interact with this
cattle herd and within these 15-20 that
are identified as a disease risk to the
cattle. The weaker badgers are locked
in territorially by the four strong
groups, and the few badgers within the
Home Farm land have access to the
farm buildings, but there are no active
signs of badger penetration into the
farm buildings. It is likely that the
unhealthy badgers are not travelling
very far and are able to find food
without visiting the buildings.

Each farm and area situation will
differ in detail regarding the contact
between badgers and cattle and the risk
to the cattle from badgers. This farmer
is looking for a solution to his TB
problem. The information is like a

Relevant pieces

The TB history of the herd, with the
seasonal detection of TB failures, the
fields where the cattle have grazed and
the health and territory of the badger
populations, are all relevant pieces that
have to be slotted together. Each
individual piece is not particularly
helpful to the farmer.

As someone with a detailed
knowledge of the disease status and
management of the farm over the
years, what help and assistance can the
veterinary surgeon offer?

The farmer has stated that if he
loses a substantial number of cattle
after the next test, then one member of
staff will have to go and he reluctantly
may need to examine the option of
farming without cattle.

What the veterinary surgeon may
care to consider is the disease status of
the neighbouring farms. The farmers
who have strong badger populations
may need to be encouraged that having
healthy badgers is beneficial and that
there is merit in knowing the accurate situation. A map
actually showing
the land used for
the cattle would be

During the
summer of the 10-
month TB-free
period, the farmer
grazed the herd on
fields offered by a
neighbour. These
fields, unknown to
anyone, included a
population of
unhealthy badgers
and it was during
and after grazing this area that the TB positive cattle
were identified and slaughtered.

Culling standards

But what of badger culling as a disease
control option? It is said that a control
programme for bovine TB that
involves the culling of badgers needs
to meet four culling standards: welfare
friendly; socially acceptable; cost
effective; sustainable.

There is pressure from the farming
community to be licensed to reduce the
local badger population in the belief
that fewer badgers will mean less
bovine TB. Taking the Home Farm as
an example, if carbon monoxide is
used then the 13 locations, with a total
of 15 to 20 unhealthy badgers, could
be cleansed in one day.

It would be important to carry out
the procedure accurately and the cost
would be of the order of £200. The
action would be carried out before the
sows have further litters of potentially
unhealthy cubs. There would be no
disruption of healthy setts.

£5,000 per badger

Alternatively, if trapping and
shooting was applied, then it is
debatable whether the traps would be
successful in capturing the unhealthy
badgers that are not using territorial

The cost per badger trapped from
traditional setts is calculated to be of
the order of £5,000 per badger
because of the high labour
involvement. Free shooting would be
an option but as the unhealthy
badgers probably come out of their
holes to feed infrequently,
considerable patience would be

In considering the four standards,
gassing is certainly cost effective.
Targeting 20% of the local badger
population is likely to prove more
socially acceptable than a mass cull.
Assessing the health of the local
badger population initially and then
removing the unhealthy badgers is
sustainable year on year and so that
leaves welfare friendly.

It is not welfare friendly to let sick
badgers starve to death because they
are unable to forage for food, and
removing unhealthy badgers would
reduce disease transfer to the healthy
badgers. It seems important to
establish how many cattle herds with
TB also have unhealthy badgers
within the farmland.

Despite his frustration, the farm
vet taking the trouble to better
understand TB in his cattle, and in
the badgers, is greatly appreciated by
the farmer.

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