letter received August 13th 2011 Dear Mary,
I sit writing this watching the wild life of this little patch through my window, Muntjac, Fox, Badger and all manner of birds, not to mention numerous Squirrels
All of whom, some would regard as vermin. It would appear that poor Badger and his brethren are now nothing more than political footballs to be kicked back and forth by the various groups at will.
Please will no one stop and take a long, hard, honest look at the whole story! Remember at one stage ,with this much vilified test we had got the country to a point of being 98% clear of TB. What went wrong?
Maff/Defra gave way to financial pressure. Governments of all persuasion wanted economies, so testing intervals were relaxed until they became in effective. It was entirely possible for heifers to move through markets from farm to farm and never be tested. After the Foot & Mouth, stock was sold from areas that were suspect , to say the least, and spread occurred.
No one is considering the changes in farming practice. They have forgotten cows are supposed to be grazing or browsing animals. They have been fed ever more concentrate diets, with some odd ingredients, as production became the name of the game. Levels of real stockmanship and attention to the individual animal have fallen. Housing has changed from warm wood and brick byres, to draughty cold concrete barns where condensation is rife. Individual feeders have been replaced by walk through feeding in the parlour and water bowls by tanks.
Native breeds have been ousted by Friesians and now the Holstein is in the ascent.
Hay has been replaced by haylage or silage cut and blown with rotary mowers, thus faeces blown into crop. Maize, a favourite of badgers is similarly treated. Forage grasses are now all mono cultures, no herb rich hay meadows. No wonder there are trace element and vitamin deficiencies. Lower production targets and a better life style might well improve the immune status of the animals. Then again replacement cost would fall as animals would last over many more lactations than at present, indeed as they used to.
Farmers have been wound up to blame the Badger for all their problems by various interest groups and by lack of serious leadership by Defra. In turn this has enraged the supporters of the badger. It is likely that Badgers in some area play a significant part in the problem, but what if a cull fails to produce the desired effect, either through perturbation or there are other factors and carriers about. What then?
No serious consideration has been given to other species that may be carriers. Rabbits, horses and deer have all seen population increase since the late fifties. Although the horse is said to be relatively resistant to TB one would have expected a rise in cases if badger infected pastures were the main source. However, what percentage of horses has a full PM examination? Also the reports I have read make it clear the pathology is different in the horse and I suspect TB may well be missed. Serious in depth surveys are needed for all species to look at the pathology and incidence on an ongoing basis. Perhaps also if the resistance of horses to TB is so strong then research to identify that factor would be very relevant.
It is also relevant to examine the factors that appear to make the camelids so susceptible. However, here one must take into account a plains roaming animal, from a different climate, living a semi wild existence, which is suddenly asked to live in what, to it, are intensive conditions. I note, like many an exotic, disease may be advanced before clinical signs become obvious.
The long-term hope for vaccination of both badgers and cattle has to overcome the resistance apparent in current EU regulations. Is DEFRA and the government prepared to stand up to the EU and push the necessary regulations through both Parliament and the EU. MAFF/DEFRA 's track record on standing up to Europe is not very encouraging. Live export of horses for slaughter and the horrific trans Europe trade still goes on. Our sheep are still exported live no doubt to come out of a French slaughterhouse with a French label. Worrying about a perfect bait for Badgers is stupid. If man cannot place bait in areas where cattle have no access, then we have no hope. When it comes to the cull also there is NO totally humane method of culling every individual. Unnecessary cruelty has to be avoided at all times. However, if a cull does take place then every culled animal should be recorded and without exception EVERY ANIMAL should have a full Post Mortem. This would be a major opportunity to study the species and its problems. VI centres and University Path departments should give it a priority and government should subscribe funds.
You will guess from the above that I found all those who think they have a simple answer to this problem to be in cloud cuckoo land. I feel it needs a broad approach that rules nothing out as being irrelevant, a concept I am afraid DEFRA will never take on board. It would cost money and require courage to put to Government.
My visiting Brock is no danger to cattle all local dairy herds have gone, Bill the head cowman long since gone to meet his maker and Alf, near ninety, now lives in a town. I miss their calls in the early hours around dawn, as they fetched some two hundred cows in.
Thank you for your efforts to bring a little sense to the world of farming.