Chris Mangham: We cannot afford to sit back and let TB run rife in cattle
TB in cattle is a topical and highly emotive subject. In the 102-year history of our practice we have never had as many farms under TB restrictions.
Whatever your views on the current badger cull there is no escaping the fact that the incidence of TB is on the increase and that it is probably the biggest single threat to the UK cattle industry.
Last year 38,010 cattle were slaughtered due to TB, a ten per cent rise on the 34,668 cattle slaughtered in 2011. Shocking as these figures are, the true cost and consequences of TB restrictions reach much further than the culled animals.
TB testing is a time-consuming business and farms under restriction face testing every 60 days. To test a large herd will take two days, one to inject them and a second, 72 hours, later to read the test. The only cost covered by the Government is the vet performing the test.
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Farmers are expected to invest in suitable facilities to run the whole herd through and the staff to work all day moving cattle around for the test. In addition to these direct costs farmers will face production losses caused by the stress and injuries to the cattle as a result of having to move them all.
When a farm is under restriction no cattle can be bought or sold. For beef farmers this completely stops their cash flow while all the costs of feeding and housing remain. To compound the issue, when their restrictions are eventually lifted it's not uncommon for the cattle to have gone past their peak market value.
Dairy farmers also face cash flow issues, unable to replace their culled animals while under restriction they have less and less milk in their tank to sell and are unable to sell their calves.
The inability to sell young stock leads to sheds being overstocked and diseases such as pneumonia and scours developing into big issues with dead animals, poor growth rates and expensive drug bills. If the situation becomes too bad then some farmers have to make the heart-breaking decision to cull their dairy bull calves.
I have only had time to highlight a few of the issues that UK cattle farmers face on a daily basis. The cost of TB is massive with the average cost of a breakdown on farm being estimated at £34,000, of which £12,000 falls at the feet of the farmer. With some farms under restrictions for years the costs can be many multiples of this.
In the last decade TB has cost the taxpayer £500 million and it is estimated that without any further action that will rise to £1 billion over the next decade. Can we afford to sit back and continue as we have been doing?