Discussing bovine TB with clients - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Discussing bovine TB with clients

VETERINARY PRACTICE
looks at how a sensible way forward on
reducing the incidence of TB in cattle
could actually result in the Government
saving some money

FARMERS are considering their options for controlling TB, a disease that is damaging their peace of mind and their pocket. It is likely that veterinary surgeons will be asked for an opinion and the following information may be of interest to assist such a conversation. The West of England is recognised to have TB hotspots. Table 1 shows the number of herds in each county and the percentage under movement restriction on 31st May 2011 (with thanks to the DEFRA website). Information from all counties is available. Within the area of some veterinary practices, the number of clients being tested every 60 days is likely to be much higher than the total indicated (17%). The average (England in 2010) for the number of animals culled per herd under restriction is four but in local areas there are herds with greater numbers taken. Clearly, the number of animals slaughtered increases the dissatisfaction rating for the lack of success with disease control but also the length of time that the herd has been under restriction is a major contributor.

Costs to the farmer

Some of the clients showing the greatest agitation may be those whose herds have failed for the first time, regardless of the number of beasts taken. In Cornwall and Gloucester, the average number slaughtered per herd under restriction is 2.5 and three in Devon. Costs to the farmer include having the herd tested and the lost production of the animals slaughtered. This differs due to the value to the farmer of the actual animals taken and the place of the animal in the production cycle. It has been suggested that a farmer incurs an additional 30% of cost, so that possibly means that for every £1,000 of compensation received the cost is actually £1,300. The current thrust is to consider control by groups of neighbouring cattle farmers. One way of reviewing the impact of a control strategy is to allocate comparative values. Neighbouring cattle farmers are likely to be a mix of dairymen and beef growers. A value for slaughtered animals of £1,000 has been allocated in Table 2 on the basis of 25,000 cattle slaughtered in 2010 giving a compensation cost of £25 million, which is an approximate working figure. Groups of farmers who are prepared to work together to control TB may have recorded a higher average number of animals slaughtered in a year, so a figure of five animals slaughtered per herd has been allocated. The worst case scenario in the Table is that 100% of the herds are under 60- day testing and that each herd has live animals slaughtered in the year at a compensation sum of £1,000 each. For a group of 100 herds, the figures (Table 2) indicate the cost to the Government of compensation with various levels of restriction. Taking the compensation sums at face value roughly illustrates the benefit from a TB control programme in financial terms for the Government (Table 3).

Substantial saving

With 100 herds all under TB restriction, participating in a control programme that is 100% successful in a year, the compensation that would have been paid to each farmer is £500,000 (a) divided by 100 = £50,000. At the 10% success level, the compensation saved is £50,000 (b) divided by 100 = £5,000 per farm. With 15 out of the 100 only under restriction (15%)
and a 10% success rate, the compensation saved is £7,500 (c) equating to £500 per farm originally restricted (£7,500 divided by 15) or £75 per farm in the group. For Government budgets, therefore, the gain, in reduced compensation, from a low per annum fall in TB cases across a mix of 100 neighbouring beef and dairy herds, is going to be small. It is not surprising, therefore, that the badger shooting programme, with a 6% per annum predicted fall, is not to be funded by Government. A gain of about £10,000 per annum may be realistic in total for the 100 herds. Around 6,000 herds in England contribute to the annual compensation budget and potentially 56,000 herds to the testing budget. The cost of testing is believed to be greater than the cost of compensation. If a control programme involved all
restricted herds in England, and the benefit is measured in herds
becoming unrestricted, a 6% benefit is 360 herds (6% of 6,000) x four (cattle culled per farm) = 1,440 animals at whatever average value, say a total of £1.5 million. Small wonder that
cutting the cost of testing can be seen as important for the
Government economically. A 10% saving per annum on, say,
a £30 million spend for testing would yield far more than a 6% reduction in TB on every herd under current restriction. A reduction of herds under 60-day testing will also reduce the frequency and cost of testing. Within the 100 herds model, a transfer of six herds from 60-day testing to annual, with 2,000 animals not now being tested (say five tests x 2,000 = 10,000 tests @ £5 per test), saves £50,000. It seems clear that to improve the Government’s budget, a much better performance in TB reduction needs to be achieved that does not demand an increase in testing expenditure. Whether or not an increase in on-farm expenditure by a farmer would be beneficial will depend on his neighbours and the perceived risk. How to achieve a higher performance solution with greater local awareness may be the topical issue. Noting the high TB incidence herds within
a practice and their immediate neighbours is one way forward.
The location of the cattle within a farm that recorded TB
failures would be an important factual contribution to the
conversation. Dairy herds attract more compensation, and more badgers, so the most productive conversations would be with the dairy farmers and their immediate neighbours.

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