Environment and Rural Affairs

A Farmer’s Reality

Bovine TB is truly a soul-destroying disease for both man and beast, writes Barbara Hughes, a farmer with over 35 years of experience in the sector.

I should know, I’ve been a dairy farmer for over 35 years and in recent years, been subjected to the cruel cycle of testing on numerous occasions. However, for a lot of farmers, Bovine TB testing is more than just a tick box exercise – You feel like you’ve let your herd down.

The emotional pressure of waiting for these results, knowing there’s a possibility your newborn calf could be sent to slaughter is weighted against the heavy penal restrictions farmers face should their herd test positive – restrictions which bare serious and deep financial effects, on an already marginal business.

The reality is both mentally and physically exhausting.

As a farmer, I take huge amounts of pride in the welfare and wellbeing of my ‘girls’. We wake up at dawn in order to feed them twice a day, we build a genuine bond of love and care not too dissimilar to the relationship between man and dog. Indeed, it is this relationship between farmer & cattle that make the impact of Bovine TB all that more personal.

In North Wales, we have nothing short of an epidemic of Bovine TB and I have regularly witnessed the first-hand impact this disease has on mental health. I’ve consoled a devastated 60-year old farmer who received a truly heart-breaking set of results. I’ve watched as a close friend sent 100 of his cows to the slaughterhouse as each and every one had come into contact with Bovine TB – he ended up in hospital having suffered from a heart attack attributed to the stress and anxiety of losing his herd.

I myself have struggled both emotionally and financially as a result of this truly dreadful disease, however, I am lucky. I am surrounded by a close family who understands and has acted as a support network throughout the emotional rollercoaster that is the Bovine TB testing cycle.

However, those who govern down in Cardiff Bay have truly let the farming fraternity down. Farmers have issued an invitation after invitation to government officers, requesting their presence on our farms, giving them a clear and first-hand understanding of how devastating Bovine TB is for our community.

These invitations have been met with no avail.

Many have tried, but the words of the farming fraternity have so far, fallen on deaf ears.

However, this problem isn’t going to go away, it will continue to ravage our industry whilst destroying the farming fraternity unless the Welsh Government take a stand – and the facts and figures demonstrate this:

  • 11,558 animals were compulsorily slaughtered in Wales for TB control reasons in the 12 months to the end of March 2020, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs TB dashboard.
  • In the 12 months to June 2020, there were 615 new herd incidents reported in Wales – a figure which has been contracted by the COVID-19 restrictions.
  • Bovine TB compensation for Welsh farmers has jumped by 15%, in a year, according to new figures. Indeed, compensation in 2018-19 for farmers hit by the disease reached £18.24m, with £15.9m paid in 2017-18. Over the past five years alone, compensation to Welsh farmers totals just under £74m.
  • On the 14th July 2020, the Farmers Weekly reported that Bovine TB cases have reached a 10 year high in North West Wales. A month later, Farmers Weekly highlighted another tragic case, the Williams family of Pembrokeshire, owners of an elite dairy herd that could be forced out of the milk sector after losing 60% of their ‘girls’ in just 16 months, a total of 138 cows had been removed from their herd since April 2019.

This is the reality of Bovine TB.

The story of the Williams family is one that is being repeated over and over again, the length and breadth of Wales. Yet, the Welsh Labour Government stands idly by and repeatedly fails to hear the messages and pleas coming from this vitally important industry.

We’re now in September, barely 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Farmers have been hailed as the forgotten heroes, the key workers who provided food throughout the lockdown months – yet we’re still facing financial, emotional and physical uncertainty as our ‘girls’ are continually at risk of succumbing to Bovine TB.

Welsh Government: now is the time to act.

Barbara Hughes is a farmer with over 35 years of experience in the farming industry.