A Farmer's View

We know that for those outside the farming community it can be difficult to understand the pressures and difficulties that farmers face in their lives and work.  We felt it would be useful for you to read some personal stories, especially relating to Bovine TB, so that you can pray with more understanding and compassion.  Each story related on this page has been personally written by the farmer themselves, sometimes stirring deep emotions.  We trust you will hear their heart, their grief and their hope, their love of their animals and will gain a new insight into what it means to be a Farmer in these days.

After having a herd close-down forced upon him because of T.B., one farmer describes his experience and the consequential implications to his livelihood.
"In 1978, we purchased the farm. As a result of many years of hard work, sacrifice and dedication, by 2008, we had increased acreage to roughly1100 acres and had in total, 1000 head of cattle. Broken down, the dairy herd comprised of 250 cows and 750 young stock. Our herd has been fully home-bred since 1986, so apart from maybe one breeding bull per year, no livestock has been bought in. We were always very particular about the purchased bulls, ensuring that there were no T.B. issues with its previous herd. Never before 2008 had we had even the slightest trouble with T.B.
The annual T.B. test process requires the use of all my members of staff, including myself, the owner; this comprises of three full-time and one part-time. During the fateful 2008 test, we failed. The dairy herd had 28 reactors. Despite the animals being otherwise young, healthy and productive, they were taken almost immediately for slaughter. After which, two were found to have lesions. While the lesions were not conclusively T.B., the farm was nonetheless instantly closed down. Incidentally, evidence of T.B. on our farm was never conclusively confirmed, so we wonder if our three years of hardship may have been pointless!
Herd close-down prevents you from selling or moving any livestock. The consequences are numerous, but the most significant is livestock numbers. Whereas previously we would sell store-cattle at least twice a year, we were no-longer able to. With increasing numbers of stock, comes the need for extra feed and man-power. Towards the end of our herd-closure period, we were over-run with animals. Housing space was becoming sparse, time was limited we faced huge feed and labour bills. Our income was massively compromised.
Once precautionary close-down is imposed, instead of annually, you became subject to whole-herd testing every sixty days. Logistically, testing is a nightmare. Animals are spread all over the farm, in various groups and locations. Some fields are more remote than others and have little or no handling facilities. Moving reluctant animals in these areas is often challenging: it demands hours of precious time and in addition to the regular staff, extra hands are often begged or cajoled. On our farm, man-power was stretched to the limit even before the T.B. struck.  Farming is a lifestyle, not a job. A farmer’s life is dedicated to caring for all livestock seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year. Milking the two hundred and fifty cows is undertaken twice a day. Cleaning and sterilising equipment is a twice daily ritual. Feeding and cleaning out all indoor livestock is done daily and those that are out also need to be checked and dealt with. Once everyday tasks are complete, other jobs are tackled. These of course are far-ranging and diverse; including anything from fencing, foot-trimming, midwifery, building, mechanics, muck spreading, harvesting and of course paper-work. In order to prepare for the T.B. tests, we frustratingly had to neglect other important farm tasks.
Once the first sixty day interval passed, we underwent the next test and were faced with a further forty eight reactors. This was devastating news. In addition to them all being part of the dairy herd, they have all been hand-fed when young and are individually recognised.  Losing them was heart-breaking, particularly when some of the heifers were close to calving. Herding them onto a lorry destined for the slaughter house is a sorry job.
The process of sixty day testing continued. Even a single reactor in any one test will result in herd closure, so it wasn’t until March 2011, that we were finally deemed to be T.B. free. In total, we lost one hundred and sixty head of cattle. Since that March, we have thankfully returned to annual testing, though we did have one contiguous test in July 2013 because a neighbouring farm went down with T.B. Every test is now faced with dread and concern, but I am happy to say that we recently passed our routine test in 2013, two days before Christmas.
During the three years of sixty day testing, we endured eighteen full herd tests. One hundred and eight working days were lost and one young man was quite badly hurt. The young man sustained a serious kick in his private regions by a powerful limousine heifer. He was totally lifted into the air and thrown backwards several yards. It took several days to recover and despite refusing both medical and maternal examination, his girlfriend has recently delivered a healthy baby, so I guess he missed permanent damage! Other farms haven’t been so lucky in avoiding tragedy during the testing regime and I am sure there will be future loss and suffering.
Another major affecting issue I haven’t mentioned is the trauma and time involved in the clean up after every test. It begins with the isolation of the ‘reactors’. They have to be both milked and fed separately during the period between ‘reactions’ and taken for slaughter. Each animal has its own passport and has to be correctly matched to its ear-tag, which is often difficult to read or even access if beasts refuse to keep still long enough. If the paperwork proves incorrect, the animal will be slaughtered without compensation, so it can be stressful ensuring it is right. It could also take several hours for the relevant personnel to arrive and value animals. There were a couple of occasions which were particularly difficult. For instance, one cow was a bit lame and close to calving, so the inspection officer in charge of proceedings decided that she shouldn’t join her herd-mates on the lorry to the slaughter house. Instead, he wanted her to be slaughtered on the farm. The slaughter man wanted to perform the slaughter in the shed amongst all the other animals. For obvious reasons, I refused to allow this to happen. When we ushered her onto the yard, she didn’t take too kindly to being chased around by a strange man brandishing a gun. At this point, any signs of lameness vanished and she became peculiarly agile as she frantically avoided all human contact. She finally finished up in the muck pile and had to be fished out with a tractor and loader. Her final hours would have been far less stressful had she been loaded alongside the other slaughter-bound animals.
Throughout the whole testing period, we were also bombarded with other extremely stressful issues. For one, we had two DEFRA passport inspections, one of which resulted in a court appearance. I was charged with not appropriately administering the rules and laws of the passport system. Having conferred with the DEFRA barrister before entering court, my barrister reached a ‘deal’ that allowed most of the charges to be dropped, providing I pleaded guilty to a number of particular charges. The end result was that I was convicted and given a heavy fine. After subsequent research and probing, it transpired that there were quite a few other farmers around the country finding themselves in similar situations. One court case resulted in a very clever barrister discovering that the laws we were supposed to have breached, didn’t actually exist at all! They were in fact E.U directives which had never been made law by Parliament! Eventually every convicted person was exonerated and reimbursed financially, however, it took so long, that my solicitor threatened DEFRA with prosecution.
Another problem occurred one night when an electrical fault in the loft above the milking parlour set alight. I was milking at the time but was lucky enough to evacuate all cows before the roof collapsed. There were still many cows in need of milking, so we had to make a hasty temporary repair in order to complete the night’s session. Many weeks passed before the milking parlour was back to normal.
The following defies belief. In a single week, we were faced by a series of events that were life-changing. To begin with, a young man was found dead in the lane leading up to the farm.  Although he had consumed both drink and drugs, his death was caused by impact with some sort of vehicle. The night he died, I had driven to my daughter’s house for a shower because our hot water had stopped working and I had passed the incident scene. After a day or two of investigation my car was impounded. I was arrested under suspicion of manslaughter and taken into police custody. For six weeks I was placed under police bail. When I returned home, stress and disbelief prevented sleep and I lay in bed until the early hours. Ironically, this probably saved our lives because I awoke to smell the house on fire! We were consequently moved out of the house because it became uninhabitable, into a near-by hotel. While contractors were in the house sorting out the fire damage, friends of the dead man turned up, having some-how found out of my alleged involvement and were braying for blood. They wanted revenge for their friend’s death! Luckily I was not around at the time, but we were subsequently put under police protection and I was literally in fear for my life! Driving home one evening, my wife was dramatically pursued home. We could not prove it, but we believe the drivers were something to do with the dead boy. To this day she remains affected and nervous of driving alone along our lane.
 Towards the end of the six week period, after having been forced to employ a criminal lawyer and been subjected to the horrors of a gruesome second post-mortem report, I was again exonerated. It transpired that the man was run over by his own friends and they had conspired to implicate me!
During that week, we did not think things could get any worse, however it did. During a routine twenty week scan, our daughter discovered that her unborn baby had a serious heart disorder known as Tricuspid Atresia. Basically the baby only had half a functioning heart. It was a shell shock and the implications were extreme. We as a family have gone through a very stressful and worrying time, but Jessica is almost six years old now. She has already had four major open heart surgeries and is now thankfully leading a normal life.
In conclusion I would have to mention that my wife and I are Christians. Without our faith, family and friends I don’t think we could have survived so much trauma. (If any of them happen to read this account, I would like to express my humble gratitude).  I also apologise about including issues that may seem irrelevant to T.B., however, I felt they were necessary components of a larger, whole picture of events. In many ways, we are fortunate because we know some families who have gone through bereavement solely because of T.B. Whole herds have been lost through it, where years of careful breeding and selection have been totally wiped out. T.B. is not selective and my herd was ruined by it because many of our best animals had to go. We chose not to replace our lost animals with purchased ones, so we ended up keeping older, inferior animals. Writing this article has forced me to recollect difficult and emotional events. I realise how deeply I and my family were affected. At the time, witnessing some of my best animals being led to destruction was overwhelming, but I now recognise that I am still grieving for them and their lost blood lines. Three years may have passed since clearance, but our recovery from T.B herd-closure is still on-going."  Stewart, Farmer, South Wales 2013

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