The fear, uncertainty and mental and financial implications are among the impacts of a TB (tuberculosis) outbreak that William Irvine, Co. Armagh – who runs a herd of 140 high-yielding Holstein Friesian cows – has highlighted.
He recently lost one of his cows to TB and, in a video with the UFU (Ulster Farmers’ Union), has opened up about the turmoil farmers in these circumstances face.
He explained: “Just today, we loaded a cow onto the lorry for slaughter because it tested positive for TB. That is a very common and typical occurrence on cattle farms across Northern Ireland.”
“On one level, I am very fortunate that I only lost one cow. There are many more significant interventions across Northern Ireland, but having said that, that one animal was just coming to the end of its first lactation. It had not fulfilled the purpose of it being reared.”
“It had by no means justified the cost of rearing it and the breeding that was in it. In those situations where herds are closed for several years, the implications of the build-up of stock on farms, and cash flow arising from rearing and feeding all those stock are huge.”
“When you think of TB at farm level, there is a real nervousness in the lead up to any TB test because this time, I lost one. That is minor on one scale, but until you actually read those tests, you do not know whether you are losing one or fifty.”
Closed herds and regular testing
He said that in a “perfect” world, herds would be subjected to a once-off annual test, which he says farmers “could cope with”.
But in a situation like his, where his herd is now closed, he will have to test every 60 days until he is required to do.
He said it is common in cases where bad TB breakdowns arise that farmers’ herds are closed for several years.
In Northern Ireland, he explained:
- Animals get tested annually;
- Reactor herds can be tested every 60 days;
- The average testing interval in Northern Ireland is around seven months;
- 1,839,740 animals have been tested from 22,212 herds in the last 12 months (figures in line with the tests used).
He said that he “does not know how long this journey will last, and that is another one of the stresses to this”.
“We are complete passengers on this journey. With my involvement with UFU over the past few years, as dairy chair and deputy president, on a few occasions, I have seen farmers absolutely stressed to their limits to the point of tears.”
“Sitting at their own kitchen table or looking at empty sheds, it has always been because of TB disease,” he added.
He believes the “long overdue and much-needed” TB eradication strategy is “the only way” to protect Northern Ireland’s livestock.
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