Anton Coaker: TB plan

Discussion in 'Agricultural Matters' started by JP1, Nov 19, 2015.

  1. JP1

    JP1 Moderator

    I’ve had unsettling dream.
    In it, all these worthy bodies came up with a much lauded guide on how to keep my cattle safe from TB. One of cornerstones of the guide is advice is to keep wildlife – black and white wildlife- away from my cattle. To help me, the shiny website has all manner of suggestions about fencing my livestock separate from those pesky badgers, and keeping them from getting at the cattle food. I was confused-in this dream- but luckily found myself able to ask some DEFRA big wig. Doing some quick ready reckoning, I explained that I farm something like 300 head of cattle, over an enclosed area of about 600 hectares, plus common grazings. Within, and scattered right across that area, lie numerous active badger setts- 20 plus-, and while I don’t know exactly, there must be nearly as many badgers as bullocks. Most of my cattle spend most of their lives eating and sleeping outdoors, with the wildlife. Each of my neighbouring farmers operates in a similar fashion, albeit with a bit more aplomb and professionalism than Twitface McCoaker. Other than odd bits of woodland, there aren’t any blocks of land which aren’t farmed.

    So how, I asked, do we separate wildlife from cattle? Do I fence around each sett? I certainly could do that, if I wanted to starve my badgers to death- which I absolutely don’t. Do I give them little corridors to meet up with each other for procreative purposes? I’m sorry, I’ll stop there. Already the image portrayed is an offensive fantasyland. Some kind of urbanised hellhole distortion of the landscape I love.

    Not listening especially intently, the DEFRA Grande Fromage simply told me I was taking foolish risks with my cattle, implying any TB would be my own fault. I shouldn’t graze cattle on such ground. Given my forebears association with both the cattle and the landscape, I found his response about as offensive as it could possibly be, and staying in his presence without taking ‘remedial action’ took a measure of determination. I was outraged that he can pilot a very big desk indeed with such arrogant indifference.

    Critically, he, and this advisory site, seemed to imagine that farmland is somehow separate from where the wildlife lives. That my cows and my badgers inhabit different places.

    Shortly after this very difficult dreamscape meeting, a report came out suggesting that the spread of TB is partially the fault of various farming methods. Intensification, maize silage, -seemingly- grass silage, removal of hedgerows, and such wicked things are all in the firing line. The report has predictably met with rebuffs from industry, and clamouring delight from the badgerist brigade.

    Taking a detached view…and this is seeing what I can see from up on the hill… Yes, very likely intensive cattle farming is a higher risk. Without a 100% accurate TB test, more cows in one place, highly bred, and fed on rocket fuel, inevitably must be an issue. I wouldn’t want to farm like it, but the marketplace is driving farmers down that route. And maize silage is one of the key management strategies, bringing its own problems. I understand old brock will travel miles for maize- and fencing him out is pretty difficult. Silage per se I’m not sure about. Perhaps it’s about silage being chopped in a forager. If it’s harvested without a few days of UV sunshine to cook the bugs in the badger poop, and but hoovered up and chopped into tiny lengths, becoming one homogenised mound in the clamp….maybe that’s where they’re coming from.

    As for hedge removal, I’m not sure I buy the rationale.

    Anyway, yes I daresay there’s some foundation in what the report says. But we’ve necessarily come a long way from old ‘Buttercup’ meandering in from the meadow with the rosy cheeked dairymaid, to yield up a few pints for the farmhouse. It simply isn’t going to happen like that. I’ve seen TB in conditions far from what they’re describing…almost diametrically opposite. So keep the report in perspective.

    The wildlife remains infected and effectively unmanaged, and neither report, Grande Fromage, nor trendy website, have any plan to sort it out. We’re doing what we can, and have our own bio-security measures. It’s unsung, but when one of us goes down, we generally immediately start trying to work out how to minimise the impact. Where possible, we try and isolate suspect animals, and manage our grazing around the problem sites. I’ll speed up the slaughter of beasts I deem a risk. We try and find best practise to get clear. We’re already doing what we can…perhaps it’s their turn to ‘man up’ now.

    I keep beating against the walls of this horrible dream, but don’t seem to be able to awaken from it.

    About the author

    Originally published in The Western Morning News, these articles are reproduced for the enjoyment of TFF members World-wide by kind permission of the author Anton Coaker and the WMN

    Anton Coaker is a fifth generation farmer keeping suckler cows and flocks of hill sheep high on the Forest of Dartmoor and running a hardwood and mobile sawmill.

    A prodigious writer and regular correspondent for The Western Morning News, NFU and The Farming Forum, Anton’s second book “The Complete Bullocks” is available from
  2. jade35

    jade35 Member

    S E Cornwall
    @JP1 please thank Anton for putting into words how I feel about these recommendations.

    I have struggled to reconcile the '>150 cow herd most at risk' mantra with this area. I believe all the farms in my immediate area have gone down with TB on more than one occasion and most are smaller beef herds who do not grow maize etc:(
    JP1 likes this.
  3. Bruce Almighty

    What really pisses me off is the constant use of the term "wildlife" it's badgers FFS, the fact that they have "bad"at the start of their name gives you a clue about the trouble they cause !
    C.J and gone up the hill like this.
  4. matthew

    matthew Member

    It's a name they dare not speak. Also known as a 'non bovine source'.
  5. Arnie

    Arnie New Member

  6. Arnie

    Arnie New Member

    when I was an infant TB was rife and with the way Farmers look after their cattle they got rid of TB but the do gooders are undoing all there good work, badgers want keeping under control and the farmers are the best people to do this they farm with there heads not there hearts
    My wife and myself are coming up 81 in the new year so we re-lie on our milk being delivered we live in a village that only has a bus two three times a week and nearest supermarket is about 4 to 5 miles away
    so we re-lie heavily farmers the farm shop milk round ect.
    Bruce Almighty, Flossie and C.J like this.
  7. jade35

    jade35 Member

    S E Cornwall
    This is the reply to Anton's article column from yesterday's WMN (24.11.15) by Andrew Cobner, junior vice-president, BCVA and South West vet. I

    Comment: We can make difference fighting bTB in Westcountry

    By Andrew Cobner

    Anton Coaker’s recent article about tuberculosis and how to deal with it raised a number of points that deserve to be addressed.

    I’ve also had unsettling dreams about TB, some of them falling into the nightmare category and it does seem at times as if you’ll never wake up from them.

    I managed not to get too depressed about the recent paper from Exeter University. In truth it was to an extent misrepresented. It stated that the risk of bTB (bovine TB) breakdown increased on farms with greater areas of deciduous woodland, maize, marsh and rough pasture, and in herds that were larger, fed silage and were dairy units.

    The risk decreased on farms that had a greater percentage of hedges in boundaries, that grazed cattle on fields that had been cut for silage or hay and had greater numbers of cattle moving off the holding.

    This is a wide range of factors and there are some interesting points raised but there is also some overlap in the factors that were significant.

    Larger herds have larger fields so have less hedgerows. So the link here is simply larger herds – a long established risk factor.

    Other factors mentioned included those with greater areas of deciduous woodland. This was assumed to be linked to increased interactions between cattle and badgers.

    More maize is used by larger herds and badgers favour maize as a food source. Consequently again there is greater potential interaction between cattle and infected badgers.

    In reality maize is used because it is a good food for dairy cattle. I once saw it being fed by a Bolivian farmer in the Andes who only had two cows to feed it to – hardly intensive.

    Once infection gets into a large herd it’s difficult to root out because of undisclosed cattle but also because of ongoing badger interactions.

    There’s nothing really new here and the continuous push for cheap food means that there are no easy solutions, unless of course we can find ways to reduce interaction with infected badgers.

    For what it’s worth I sympathise with Anton’s scepticism regarding shiny websites – even though I had a role in developing this particular one.

    For the record I’m not a Defra big wig or grande fromage but a cattle vet of 35 years’ experience, mostly spent in the TB land that is the Devon and Cornwall border.

    When it comes to the biosecurity measures that are being suggested each farm will be different and I quite agree that you can’t put all of the suggested measures in place – for financial reasons alone. What this is really about is reducing risk.

    The measures that will make the most difference will vary from farm to farm and from area to area. Have a word with your local vets, they’re a fairly bright bunch, and they’ll know the local situation and your farm and should be able to say where your risks are likely to be greatest.

    I’m not convinced about having as many badgers as cattle on your land but it’s right to say that you can’t eliminate contact between the two species.

    Raising feed troughs and mineral licks off the ground does however change the level of contact (pardon the pun) and reduce the risk. Badgers, like the rest of us, are pretty lazy when it comes to food. Give them an easy meal by putting feed on the ground or leaving feed shed doors open and they’ll probably take it.

    As house guests go they’re not well house trained so they tend to leave their waste behind. Some badger urine has very high levels of TB in it so the picture’s not too difficult to paint.

    As vets and farmers we deal with a lot of infectious disease, of many types and from many different sources. In pretty much every case we believe that we can control these diseases by a combination of measures, including biosecurity, risk based trading, surveillance and vaccination.

    Sadly when it comes to TB we’ve reached a point where many no longer believe that what we do can make a difference.

    Speaking personally I’m not ready to throw the towel in just yet.

    The British Cattle Veterinary Association is pushing for TB control on all fronts.

    Roll-out of the badger culls into areas across the country is an essential part of the 25 year plan and I would hope that areas of Devon and Cornwall will be part of next year’s roll out. That will reduce the risk of badger-cattle interaction but it won’t eliminate it.

    The biosecurity measures outlined on the shiny website and in the five-point biosecurity plan will still be relevant and if we are to win this battle then we have to attack from all sides.

    Talk to your local vet, assess the risks for your farm and circumstances and then take whatever measures you can to reduce those risks. Working together we can make a difference.

    Andrew Cobner is junior vice-president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association

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  8. Bruce Almighty

    About 6 or 7 years ago our vets arranged a meeting saying TB was coming. Don't feed cattle on the ground, fence off badger setts
    Bio security etc, every common sense thing Dad had taught me as a lad ( I was born in 1968, shortly after Foot & Mouth)

    We listened & learned & took action . . .
    It didn't work though, maybe the Badgers (or deer) didn't disinfect their boots

    3 years ago we had our first ever reactors, Grandad had moved here 59 years before. Being a closed herd didn't stop it either.

    Went clear on annual test Feb 14, let's hope it's "blown through" as the vets described it. You soon learn what you have to do to protect your animals.
    thatlldaespot, jade35 and matthew like this.

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