Our cattle were skin tested for bTB today. The first stage that is.

Now we wait seventy-two hours (Friday) when the vet returns for the second stage.
This waiting is the worst part. I used to torture myself by trying to feel the lumps on the cattle’s neck. Now I try to avoid any eye contact with the area.

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Testing is a time consuming palaver and can be fraught with accidents. We’re dealing with animals of up to, and in the case of the bull, over a tonne in weight. We only have a small herd of fifty or so animals to test. Imagine the organisation, time and staff a large herd needs. I was hoping to take photos of each stage, but was too involved in the whole process to manage it.

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All cattle have to be brought back to the farm and collected in the yard and cow-house. We separate off the bull and the calves into pens. If you allow all animals into the race together the calves especially can be crushed and trampled. The bull could do serious damage to anyone or anything. We run small groups of animals down the race and individually put each one through the crush where they’re restrained. The ear tag is recorded, the thickness of skin measured, and two injections are administered, one avian tuberculin (the control) and the other bovine tuberculin.

On Friday the size and nature of the reactions to both tuberculins will be compared to determine whether the test result is positive, negative or inconclusive.

Interestingly, yesterday evening we had a visit from a neighbouring farmer who has been elected to visit all farms in our parish to gauge the reaction to a badger cull in the area. This follows an increasing incidence of the disease in the parish and a meeting between DEFRA and the NFU. It’s a hugely complex subject. I don’t necessarily feel that culling all badgers is the cure-all to bTB. There are healthy setts with, I suspect, badgers that have good antibodies to the disease. And other species of wildlife play a part in the transference of tuberculosis – deer and hedgehog for instance – as well as cattle-to-cattle infection.

There’s a theory that links the lack of certain trace elements to a greater susceptibility to bTB in both cattle and badgers, particularly selenium and iodine. More research done in this area would be very interesting; in any event I feed seaweed, rich in trace elements, to all my stock.

Fingers crossed for Friday. Just as well I’m working in Exeter tomorrow. Oh yes, I’ve fitted blinkers to my eyes too!

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