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Yesterday evening I watched as clouds of midges danced in the golden rays of the setting sun outside the kitchen window. I tried to take a photo of them. This is the result.  Fireflies?  Perhaps.  Fairies?  Possibly.  Dancing debris from a fire?  Could be.  But midges?  No!

dancing cloud

dancing cloud

Midges bring with them a sinister reputation. The more so since I’ve heard this disquieting news through the Farmers Weekly.   Many farmers, with animals already stressed by the dire weather, believe rumours that if vaccinated against bluetongue disease they might fail to breed.  FWi reports “The doubts over vaccinating were reflected at Penrith livestock market which reported that of 6000 mules through only two batches of ewes were vaccinated”.

The uptake of the vaccine has been so low in the North of England that only one in five livestock farms is protected.

A Cumbria suckled calf producer is quoted as saying “I’ve decided to leave my vaccine in the fridge until the spring. I want my cows safely in calf and a crop of calves on the ground before I start to jab.”

Chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop reports that the uptake of vaccine in Wales has been disappointingly low. FWi quotes Alun Edwards, a Welsh farmer and Farmers Union of Wales office holder, as saying producers who resist vaccination to be “bloody idiots”.

I can only speak from my own experience.

I vaccinated in late May as soon as the vaccine was available in Devon. My bull had only been running with the cows for a couple of weeks before I vaccinated and as far as I know, to date, all cows and heifers I would expect to be are in calf. I had the most vulnerable animals PD (pregnancy diagnosed) when I was bTB testing the other week and they are 2½ -3 months in calf.

Despite the weather, and vaccination, my lambs have grown well and have killed out at a good average weight of 15-16kgs – Whiteface Dartmoor lambs give a small to medium size carcass. The tups go in with the ewes at the end of next week, so I will soon see how that goes.

I urge farmers to think really carefully about the consequences of not vaccinating. If your animals contract Bluetongue, even if they don’t die (with up to 70% mortality in sheep) they will suffer horrendous consequences. Abortion, stillbirth and neonatal mortality are increased with survivors suffering from infertility, depleted lactation and chronic weight loss. These things are a certainty. I know vaccination’s an added cost in a year that’s bleak, but the consequences, emotionally and financially, will be a hundred times worse with the disease.

For immediate up-to-date information on bluetongue and the various forms of available vaccination in the UK, and on the continent, follow this link to Warmwell.

Mr Edwards also questioned the sanity of importing livestock from infected areas following the first cases of bluetongue found in imported cattle on a Denbighshire farm.

So do I. So do I!

death dance?

death dance?

Culicoides sonorensis, bluetongue disease biting midge

Culicoides sonorensis, bluetongue disease biting midge

I’ve just heard that Bluetongue Disease has been found on a farm in Devon, not million miles from here.

‘A total of eight heifers at the farm in Tiverton have tested positive for the non-contagious virus.
The animals were among a consignment of 35 Holstein heifers imported from Germany within the last week.
The cases were detected by routine testing, which is carried out on all bluetongue susceptible animals arriving from continental Europe.’

So says the BBC online news. It goes on to say

‘The heifers were transported from a bluetongue protection zone in Germany to Devon, itself within a protection zone.
A Defra statement said: “It is not unexpected to find infected animals in the protection zone.
“There is no evidence to suggest that the virus is circulating between local midge and animal populations in the local areas.
“Full epidemiological investigations are underway.” ‘

I am very puzzled. Why weren’t the heifers tested before they left Germany?
And why ‘is it not unexpected to find infected animals in a protection zone’?

Are DEFRA forgetting they made the majority of England part of the protection zone so they could bend EU rules and allow a vaccination programme to be put in place? It was not, in the majority of counties, because there were infected midges and animals in those areas.

Could this be an experiment to see if the vaccine holds up under fire? Oh, oh those damn conspiracy theories! But remember we’ve all been told it only needs one midge to have a blood meal from an infected animal for the disease to go on the rampage.

I was beginning to feeling quietly confident that England’s firewall of vaccinated animals was giving us the protection we needed from the continental wind blown Culicoides midge. Arriving on our shores by its own volition is something we can do very little about, apart from vaccination and being prepared as best we can. But to import the disease? Now? When midges are at their hight? This takes the biscuit.

So, very well done someone out there. I hope you’re pleased with yourself. My nice little security blanket’s been stripped away. Maybe my worry is completely unfounded, I sure hope so.

sheep suffering with bluetongue disease

sheep suffering with bluetongue disease

A quick update on the bluetongue information. Unfortunately there has been a technical hitch with converting the two Dutch power point presentations into pdfs. Andrew, who is very kindly doing this for me, is away on holiday this week, but as soon as he is back I’m sure that the problem will be resolved and we’ll be able to either upload the pdfs or give a link to them.

The good news is that I’m in contact with Karin from Pirbright who is keen to help and is willing put some information together for the blog. Though due to the warmer weather over the past week she has been extremely busy and won’t be able to do much before the weekend.

But, with a bit of luck, by next week I should have pulled together some useful sources of information that you will hopefully find helpful.

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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