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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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VIDEO: Empty fields, empty sheds and no cows: Family loses entire herd to TB

One farm family in Northern Ireland has opened up about losing their entire dairy herd to TB.

Ulster Farmers’ Union captured the Co Fermanagh family’s heart-breaking story in a video it shared on social media in recent days.

The farm group stated that “tackling TB in all its hosts is essential so that no more farming families have to suffer the excruciating heartache seen in this video”.

For generations, the farm has been in the family, but it is now a very different sight with “empty fields, empty sheds and no cows”.

The family turned their attention to improving their stock’s genetic merit in the 1970s, focusing on milk quality and a medium-sized cow for their grass-based farm.

Losing herd to TB

The father and son explained:

“The cows were our livelihood and were almost treated like pets. We looked after them because they were our business, and they looked after us.”

“The evening before the cows went, my five-year-old son in the house asked me: ‘what field are the cows going tomorrow?’ It would break me to try to tell him that we were putting the cows on a lorry to send them away for slaughter. TB needs to be sorted once and for all.”

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In-calf heifers and cows slaughtered

“There are cow families three and four-half sisters all went on the lorry the one time. The last take saw five sets of mothers and daughters.”

“One cow had her daughter and granddaughter on the lorry at one time. Seeing in-calf heifers two and three months off calving in December was not simple. It is heart-breaking to see those good heifers going away for slaughter.”

“Then, we had another test, another outbreak. Cows [that were] a fortnight to three weeks off calving had to go for slaughter because of TB. We have been working on this all my lifetime, and I have picked bulls for components, butterfat and protein.”

“One cow went away there doing 9,500-litres at 4.85% butterfat and 3.85% protein. Those types of cows are not available out there for sale. Those cows were working on grass and a grass-based system. The herd average was 8,000-litres at 4.4% butterfat and 3.35% protein.”

No compensation

His son added: “You can breed milk quantity in the cow in a short space of time, but it takes a lifetime of breeding to breed milk quality into the animals.”

“Our herd had over forty years of breeding for milk quality. The whole lot is just wiped out. When cows go down with TB, we, as farmers, get the market value for the livestock.”

“We get no compensation for loss of milk or loss of income. Yet, we still have a farm to manage. What other employee could run a business with no income?”

“Our cows on the farm had absolutely no contact with any neighbour’s livestock. The grazing block is either double fenced, or there is a road or a river between them and any neighbouring livestock.”

TB in Northern Ireland

“In 2014, we had a fairly major breakdown and lost half the herd in two tests. When we noticed we had the problem, we started to use more sexed semen on the herd, with more than half inseminated with sexed semen.”

“We have been dealing with this [TB] the same way we have always dealt with it. If you do something the way you have always done it and expect a different result, then you will be disappointed.”

“The department will have to look at where these sources of infections are coming from because we are a closed herd, fairly well fenced, with no contact with other cattle, and yet, we have had a major breakdown.”

“There have been herds around us down, yet we have had no contact with them, so what way is it transmitted?” they asked.

Video: Losing herd to TB:

How NI plans to tackle TB

Last month, Northern Ireland, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots announced proposals to eradicate bovine TB.

The minister will consult with stakeholders as part of a new long-term strategy to eradicate bovine TB concerning:

The consultation will close on September 10th, 2021.

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