Thursday 2 May 2013, 17:31
The visit of the vet to Bridge Farm on Friday will mean an anxious weekend ahead for Pat, Tony, Tom and Helen. Their cattle have to pass a big test. If they don't, the family won't be able to go ahead with their planned dispersal sale for two months or more.
It's all to do with a disease which had been almost eradicated in the UK but which has become rife again in English herds over the past ten or 15 years: Bovine Tuberculosis or bTB.
England, Wales and Ireland - North and South of the border – are the dirty people of Europe as far as this is concerned and the Government and farming industry leaders are keen to regain TB-free status. Taxpayers are increasingly annoyed about shelling out huge sums every year. The Government pays for routine TB screening tests and compensation for infected animals which have to be slaughtered. The industry wants an end to costly restrictions on trade.
Cattle farmers in the western half of England need to have their animals tested once a year. In Ambridge this includes the Archers at Bridge Farm and Brookfield, Ed Grundy and (soon) the Borchester Land dairy enterprise. If they are tested clear of the disease and they stay on the farm, that's the end of the story for another 12 months. If some cattle fail – or more properly react to the test – the whole herd is effectively quarantined until they all pass two further tests at 60 day intervals. So no animals can move on or off the farm for at least six months. There are some exceptions but in reality it often takes much longer for the farm to regain its TB-free status.
If the results are not clear – if there are "inconclusive reactors" – those animals are normally quarantined and re-tested after 60 days.
Once 60 days have passed after the annual TB test, for which the Government pays, the cattle must be tested again if they are to be sold or moved off the farm (unless they are going straight to the abattoir). This is known as ‘pre-movement testing’ and the farmer pays a private vet to do this work.
This is what Alistair is coming to do at Bridge Farm on Friday. He'll administer the skin test – or, if you prefer, the single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin (SICCT) test – to all cattle over 42 days old. It is similar to the test children can have. He injects tuberculin or killed bovine bacteria into the skin of the neck.
Three days must elapse before he can return to check whether any of them have reacted. If they have, he'll find a lump in the skin which he'll measure with callipers. The bigger the lump, the bigger the problem. He'll then send his results to the AHVLA, the government's animal health agency for whom he is acting. They will check and verify his results.
There's a lot riding on this. No reaction – no problem. But if there are reactors, the herd will be shut down and the sale is off. Even if the cattle "pass" the test there is pressure on time. The sale can go ahead but all the cattle must reach their new homes within 60 days of the test, otherwise they have to be retested.
No wonder the Archers will have mixed feelings as the vet drives into the yard at Bridge Farm on Friday. Expect some fingernails to be thoroughly chewed over the weekend…
Steve Peacock is The Archers’ agricultural adviser
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Monday 29 April 2013, 12:01
Friday 3 May 2013, 20:09