Every year we need to have all the cattle TB tested, as required by DEFRA. TB in cattle is a real problem all over England and especially in the South West. Over 270,000 cattle have been culled since 2008, after they tested positive. It is a stressful time for both the cattle and the farmers.
Badgers infected with TB spread the disease to cattle. And as badgers are ‘protected’ they cannot be harmed even if they decide to move onto your farm and establish a new community. The badger population is exploding as they have no predators. And the hedgehog population is in deep and rapid decline. Badgers love a tasty little hedgehog. No one in our area has seen a hedgehog for a very long time yet they used to be everywhere. I see one or two dead badgers killed on the roadside every week, there are so many of them.
So Monday morning I woke with worry for the day ahead. Luckily I had Matt and Richard to help me get the cattle rounded up and moved into the handling area before my vet, Mary arrived. Mary is fantastic with the Highlands and they seem to like her, too. It wasn’t too difficult to move them across two fields, they generally follow me as I shake a bucket of cattle cake.
The first group of twelve, including the bull and pregnant cows, were shoved down the race and held in. Then we moved the second group of six, young bullocks and heifers, all quite excited, into an open pen in the holding area. I was also having blood taken from all the animals, as I am in a Premium Health Scheme, and my cattle are disease-free. They need re-testing for that every year. These are treatable cattle diseases such as BVD, Lepto, IBR and Johne’s disease.
One by one the cattle were caught in the crush, with their heads clamped. Poor Mary had to lift their thick and hairy and mucky tails, stick a needle in on the underside and draw two vials of blood. Then she clipped a bit of hair off their necks and gave them the two TB jabs. The first group went through fairly calmly, and released into an empty field. The next group were a bit flaky, running back down the race, bashing each other a bit, but Richard and Matt gave them a good whack when appropriate, and Mary did her blood taking and jabbing. I mostly collected and labelled vials, open and closed the cattle crush and gates. Luckily the weather improved as the day moved on, and it even stopped raining.
The calves in the shed were the last to be tested. As they are on halters, we walked them out into the yard. Richard and Matt held them as they got the treatment from Mary. Then were given a big bowl of cake as a reward. The bullock had climbed into the feed ring in the shed, so he had a slightly different experience. We tied him up inside, Mary did the bloods and TB. Then Matt climbed on his back and played cowboy. No animal was hurt in the process! And it was definitely a mood lifter. Now we wait until Thursday, when Mary returns to see if there has been any reaction to the jabs, indicating TB.
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.