A dairy farm in Fermanagh (Ireland) lies empty and silent this week as the ravages of bovine TB wipes out the milking herd.
In one of the most shocking and emotional videos posted on Facebook, the Ulster Farmers’ Union posted the heartbreaking interview of father and son, Albert and Colin Foster from Macken, Derrylin, as they watched over 40 years of successful dairy breeding end with the animals being loaded onto a double decker lorry to bring to slaughter.
Colin said in the interview: “TB needs to be sorted once and for all.”
It is another example, says the Union, of the continuing devastation to livestock farmers from TB breakdowns and they say, time for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to move ahead to stamp out the disease.
In moving images on the video, Colin said they as farmers looked after the cows and the cows in turn looked after them.
He said on the evening before the cows were due to be taken off the farm, he found it very difficult to answer his five-year-old son when he asked him what fields the cows were going to the next day?
“It breaks my heart,” said Colin, emotion clear in his voice.
His father, Albert spoke about the years of breeding a successful dairy herd, using some of the top genetics to breed cows producing an average of 8,000 litres from grass. He watched in vain as five sets of mothers, daughters and grand-daughters were loaded onto the lorry, along with in-calf heifers and other cows just weeks before calving.
“Where will next year’s calves come from?” he asked in desperation.
“It’s a lifetime of breeding.”
Colin says they are paid market value of the cows but no money to compensate for loss of income and the running of the farm while there are no cows there.
They both agreed that the Department needs to look at sources of infection of TB. Their farm is situated within roads, rivers and other parts double fenced so that no neighbouring cattle could spread the disease.
As the consultation on the DAERA’s TB eradication strategy continues, UFU President, Victor Chestnutt appealed to farmers to make their views known. The Union organised a webinar for members on Thursday evening last and informed members of their views on various proposals.
And in a press briefing for agricultural journalists on Friday morning, the Union’s Presidential team; President, Victor Chestnutt; Deputy Presidents, David Brown and William Irvine along with Animal Health Policy Officer, David McClure, reiterated their stance.
Victor Chestnutt said; “This disease has been the scourge of livestock farmers. We have to stop this.”
More than 12,500 cattle have been slaughtered in the past year as TB reactors, representing 0.8% of cattle and 8-9% of herds.
The disease is endemic in both cattle and badgers and the Union is pressing for action on wildlife as spreaders of the disease to cattle.
Victor Chestnutt said; “We have nothing against badgers but they carry TB and we have a problem with the disease.”
He described the current consultation as a once in a generation to get something done and they had an Agriculture Minister who wants to tackle TB, whether that’s in cattle or wildlife.
The UFU wants the criteria for selecting herds for the Gamma test to be open to all, not disregarding the very large herds or the small herds.
They do agree on testing of non-bovines where necessary such as Alpacas, on the same farm.
The UFU also supports DAERA preferred option for wildlife intervention with a non-selective cull of free-roaming badgers complemented by cage trapping. However the UFU does not support DAERA’s proposals for funding this saying they are concerned at the imbalance of costs.
The UFU is also vehemently opposed to DAERA’s proposal for the introduction of a £5,000 cap on compensation. Firstly the UFU say farmers are not paid compensation but rather market value for their animals. They feel that agreeing with DAERA on this proposal would diminish the genetic pool of breeding. The UFU are also against the Department’s proposal for reduced compensation. DAERA is looking at introducing 90% or market value of animals in the first year of a breakdown and 75% from the second year onwards if the herd is still in breakdown.