Connect with us


The badger vaccination programme: Is it working?



Caught in a trap: An illegally snared badger

Caught in a trap: An illegally snared badger

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT issued a press release last week hailing its success in delivering 5,000 vaccinations against Bovine TB (bTB) in the Intensive Action Area against the disease in North Pembrokeshire, South Ceredigion, and North-West Carmarthenshire.

The press release read: ‘More than 5,000 doses of badger vaccination have been administered to animals inside the Intensive Action Area (IAA) in West Wales over the past four years. We are now half way through the fourth year of the Welsh Government’s five-year badger vaccination project in parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, which forms part of a wider programme of work to eradicate TB from cattle in Wales.

‘The Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, said: “Since 2010 we have introduced a number of additional measures in the IAA because it was identified as having some of the highest rates of incidence of TB in Europe.

“We are now half way through 2015’s round of the vaccination project and provisional results indicate we have successfully delivered over 5,000 doses of the vaccine in the IAA across the four years”.’

The statistics accompanying the summary were released at the same time.

The Herald delved into the data to establish what it told us about bTB rates and the effectiveness of the vaccination programme.

The history of bTB control

It is 55 years since the whole of the UK became attested on October 1, 1960. Each cattle herd was certified as being subject to regular tuberculin testing with immediate slaughter of any reactors. Progress was maintained throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The ‘clean ring strategy’ was a badger culling strategy introduced in 1982. It involved cage trapping badgers on land occupied by affected cattle herds, then on adjoining land, expanding outwards until no further infected animals were captured. It was abandoned in 1986 as being non cost-effective.

Between 1986 and 1997, the UK Government pursued a strategy in which badgers were cage-trapped and shot. However, the strategy was only piecemeal, largely because of pressure from animal charities and single-issue pressure groups that meant that only badgers on land occupied by the affected herd would be culled.

Bearing in mind current claims that culling badgers is ineffective because of the proposition that badgers would simply leave the culling area to go to a neighbouring area, the methodology adopted between 1986 and 1997 in order to prevent wider scale slaughter of badgers appears both flawed and naïve: a strategy doomed to fail, and predictably so.

Culling in other countries

In New Zealand the success of culling the principal vector for the disease, the possum, has been markedly successful.

In 1990 the proportion of TB in cattle was about 7 times greater than it was in Great Britain. However in 1997 the proportions were about equal. By 2011, the proportion in New Zealand is about 40 times less than what it is in Great Britain.

Since the early nineties, control of the principal wildlife vector, the possum has increased whilst in Great Britain since 1986 control of the principal wildlife vector, the badger, has reduced.

The method of culling in Ireland relies on the use of snares and the subsequent shooting of trapped badgers. That method, widely condemned as cruel, is expressly forbidden in the UK. The effectiveness of the range of bTB measures – including culling – adopted in Ireland has driven rates of bTB infection in herds to their lowest ever level.

Bovine TB figures have, however, also fallen in Northern Ireland, were no licensed culling has taken place. That fact has been alighted upon by those opposed to a cull as evidence of the ineffectiveness of shooting badgers in order to control bTB. However, bTB rates are still substantially higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland: in 2013 6.4 per cent of cattle herds tested positive in Northern Ireland compared to 3.8 per cent south of the border.

As might be ruefully observed, the validity of statistical evidence and the science deployed by those on either side of the culling debate is likely to remain subjective and views remain entrenched. Wildlife and animal charities will continue to deride culling, while those who deal with the personal and economic fallout of bTB will favour it.

The Welsh decision

It was against the background of apparent comparative success of culling in other countries that the Welsh Government decided to begin a five year vaccination trial in West Wales and worth recalling that the Welsh Government embarked upon a vaccination programme as very much a second preference.

In 2012, Welsh Labour abandoned a previous policy, formed in coalition with Plaid Cymru, which supported a badger cull and decided to pursue a policy of vaccination. In doing so, it was criticised by the then Chair of the British Veterinary Association for ignoring scientific evidence supporting a cull and accused of ‘cowardice’ in the face of a celebrity-backed campaign against the cull and pressure from animal charities.

The decision not to proceed was described as a betrayal of farmers whose herds remain affected by the reservoir of bTB in the wild badger population.

But what, it is fair to ask, is the Welsh Government’s ‘Plan B’?

What if the data suggests that vaccination is no more effective than doing nothing?

A farmer’s experience

The Herald spoke to one farmer, who provided his observations on life in the IAA on condition of strict anonymity.

The farmer told us: “My dairy herd has suffered from bTB for 12 years. In 2012, badgers began to be vaccinated in the area, along with strict cattle control.

“I, like many farmers find this to be a costly exercise which doesn’t reach the root of the problem, the over population of badgers in the area.

“The stricter cattle controls and improved biosecurity measures also brought in in the IAA looks to move the blame of bTB onto the farmers, which is unfair.

“Because of the desperation I face with losing cattle to slaughter because of bTB and falling milk prices, I am left with no alternative but to shoot badgers which are on my land. “This is a population control measure and I take no pleasure in the culling of an animal. It’s either the badger or my cattle, and for the sake of my family and my income, it’s the badger.”

Data and dates During the vaccination programme the absolute incidence of bTB has fallen markedly, with numbers of affected cattle falling. One key piece of data is not encouraging when it comes to weighing the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. In the period immediately preceding the vaccination programme the incidence bTB had fallen even more sharply.

Bovine TB cases had climbed sharply over the years to 2008/09, topping out at 29% per hundred head of cattle in the IAA that year. The rate of detected infection in the last full year in the most recent Welsh Government report (2014/15) shows that infection rates remain above where they were in 2006/2007, when they were at around 16% and that in the current control area was 8%.

After an initial increase in incidence following the introduction of interventions in the IAA, incidence has been decreasing since 2011/12. Incidence has also decreased in the Control Area (CA) in the last year, halving from 12 % to 6 %. In 2013/14, there were three times as many new bTB incidents per 100 unrestricted herds in the IAA (18 %) than in the CA (6 %,).

That means that the gap in the incidence of positive tests in the control area, where no vaccinations have been trialled, and the Intensive Action Area where they have has widened over the course of the vaccination programme. From the start of the IAA in 2010/11, and historically judging by the Welsh Government’s own data, the ratio had been around two to one. While one would expect the gap to narrow if vaccination were more effective that not vaccinating, the gap between the incidence in the IAA and the control area has widened.

We asked the Welsh Government about the issue the above analysis presented. A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “The downward trend in levels of bovine TB in the Intensive Action Area is encouraging and is broadly in line with the trend seen in other parts of Wales. We know that it may take years to fully see the benefits of some of our additional measures in the area, which includes six monthly testing and badger vaccination. Therefore it is too soon to draw any conclusions on the effectiveness of the measures in the IAA.”

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Cabinet Secretary kick starts land management debate



One size doesn't fit all: Lesley Griffiths argues for different approach in Wales

CABINET S​ECRETARY for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, has outlined her vision for land management in Wales post-Brexit and has kick-started a conversation with the industry on how this can be delivered.

Speaking at the NFU conference in Birmingham, the Cabinet Secretary outlined the importance of devolution and reiterated her commitment to ensure Wales does not lose a penny of funding as a result.

Speaking at the conference, the Cabinet Secretary said: “As we prepare to leave the EU, the case for devolution is stronger than ever. The nature of our farming is different and our rural communities are different. There is no one size that fits all.

“Farming is a vital part of our rural economy. I often have to remind people from outside the sector that over 80% of Welsh land is owned and managed by Welsh farmers, foresters and environmental bodies. We need them and the work they do to help deliver our ambitions for a prosperous Wales.

“I want to start detailed discussion with stakeholders about the details and to get their input on what works.

“We must work towards a shared vision. I know farmers can adapt but it is government’s job to give them the time and tools to do so.

“The transition period must be a real one, it must be well-planned and it must take place over a number of years. There is too much at stake – economically, socially and environmentally – to not get this right.

“This is worth taking the time to get right. It is a once in a generation opportunity and I am confident we can make swift progress.”

Responding to her comments, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Within days of the June 2016 EU referendum we had issued a call for a realistic post-Brexit transition period for farming, and for future policies to be developed slowly and investigated thoroughly, so the Cabinet Secretaries comments are naturally welcome.”

During her speech, Mrs Griffiths highlighted the need for clarity over UK funding arrangements for Wales, and that Wales should not lose a penny in rural funding, echoing calls made earlier in the day by the FUW President.

The Cabinet Secretary also gave assurances that she would “…fight to protect funding returning to Wales from going elsewhere,” adding, “We must continue this vital support because I cannot think of another part of Welsh society which makes such a multi-faceted contribution to our nation. Farming is a vital part of the rural economy. It is the social anchor of our rural communities, and farmers are the custodians of the land that underpins our natural environment.”

“We need to make the most of the opportunities we have to improve what we already do, while also ensuring tools are in place to cater for possible adverse impacts of Brexit,” Glyn Roberts said.

Mr Roberts added that: “The FUW has valued and seen the fruits of our recent work with the Cabinet Secretary and her wider team and we are pleased to see such significant progress. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the WG as we seek to protect the future of family farming in Wales.”

Continue Reading


It’s all go for Moat Goats



A family business: Meg and Damian McNamara with 4 month old Iori

GOAT farming couple Meg and Damian McNamara of Moat Village Farm, New Moat, Pembrokeshire, have been recognised for keeping the countryside vibrant by the Pembrokeshire FUW Countryside Business Award 2017.

The award, a £200 cash prize, perpetual trophy and a year’s free membership of the FUW, is presented every two years to someone who, 40 years of age or under, has developed their own business in rural Pembrokeshire.

“In presenting the award we recognise the fantastic work our young people are doing to keep our rural areas of Pembrokeshire vibrant and economically active places. Meg and Damian are very worthy winners of the award indeed and we can be proud to have such an inspirational farming couple in our midst,” said FUW Pembrokeshire County Executive Officer Rebecca Voyle.

Meg and Damian were both raised on dairy farms in Pembrokeshire, and always had a strong ambition to farm themselves. Although they both work outside of agriculture, Damian works as a Process Operator at Valero Refinery and Meg is a qualified Bank nurse, currently on Maternity Leave, they have managed to fulfil their farming ambition alongside keeping their day jobs. Meg also participated in the 2017 Agri Academy Business and Innovation Programme.

They bought their first land, a 12.5 acre field, in April 2015 and also farm 72 acres of Meg’s family’s farm. Their first goats arrived just 7 months later, having decided that this diversification would be both challenging and rewarding. Their herd now numbers 200 breeding female Boer goats.

Their agri-food business, Moat Goats, operates from farm to fork with home-bred kids reared by their dams. The male kids are finished for meat and the females are retained to increase the size of the breeding herd. Grass is grown both for grazing and for silage, with surplus sold for extra revenue. Mixed leys with herbs are also being tried to exploit health and production benefits.

Talking about a usual day on the farm Meg said: “We start by feeding the goats, checking and observing that they are ok, then it’s on to bedding down and we also spend time on farm work such as fieldwork and farm maintenance tasks. We also aim to post a picture or post on social media every day, as well as answering phone calls, responding to emails, and making sure that we market the business properly.”

As the male kids fatten and finish, Meg and Damian organise the slaughter in Maesteg, Bridgend and butchering of the carcasses locally at Cig Lodor, Rosebush. They then promote and sell the product online and started selling goat kid meat direct from the farm in October 2016. Now they supply meat boxes to customers throughout the UK via courier delivery, using social media for marketing. They have also supplied several local butchers with their goat meat, such as Chris Rogers in Carmarthen, T.G.Davies in Newport, Andrew Rees in Narberth, Gary the Butcher in Llandysul and DMS Llanelli and sell from the farm itself.

Speaking about the need to diversify, Meg explained: “We were aware that we needed to diversify in farming as we didn’t have enough land or time to compete with dairy, beef, sheep farmers.

“We experimented at home with jam making, cheese making, bought some heritage pigs before falling in love with 2 pet Boer cross goats and deciding to make a business from this interest.”

Meg and Damian exploit every opportunity to raise awareness of their quality produce, devising recipes, posting photos of the goats and the meals online and also supplied meat for a cookery demonstration at the 2017 Pembrokeshire County Show.

The business is going strong but there were some challenges the couple faced when setting the business up. Damian said: “The biggest challenge has been learning how to feed, handle and manage a goat herd – they require attention to detail which we have learnt through trial and error. Juggling farm and business commitments with family life and work off the farm remains an ongoing challenge especially with our young baby.”

Not ones to sit on their laurels, the couple are very aware that there are challenges the sector and their business faces. “Marketing and increasing our customer base remains a top priority for us but it’s also about raising awareness and promoting the benefits of goat meat – it’s low fat, low cholesterol, and high in iron.

“But of course, farming goats in north Pembrokeshire there is always the concern of a TB breakdown. So we take care of complying with all the necessary biosecurity and work hard to minimise contact with other herds,” said Meg.

Damian added: “We will deal with all of these challenges as a family unit and will continue to raise awareness of our business and the nutritional value of goat meat through social media. That way we hope to be selling more carcasses to the retail customer. We also intend to expand the business and therefore retain all the female kids for a few more years. Currently, we’re aiming for a herd of approximately 400 breeding females.”

It is clear that Meg and Damian are passionate about their produce and they encourage everyone to give goat meat a try.

“Goat meat is really tasty! It’s similar in texture to lamb and really easy to cook. Try something like pulled shoulder of goat kid or a simple quick-cook recipe such as chops, cutlets or sausages and have a look on our Facebook page for inspiration,” said Meg.

Continue Reading


Reducing nitrogen emissions from cattle



Forage fed cows: Reducing dairy farming's pollution

SCIENTISTS at Aberystwyth University are leading a new international research project to find ways of reducing nitrogen pollution from dairy production.

​​The Horizon 2020 funded Cowficie​N​cy project involves the exchange of staff between commercial and academic partners to upgrade and implement dairy cow diet formulation models, to increase the efficiency of nitrogen use on dairy farms.

Scientists at the University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) are working with four industry partners that consult on thousands of European dairy farms, and five prestigious European and American academic institutions.

Dr Jon Moorby is leading the work at IBERS: “Dairy cows are good at producing highly nutritious food for us from feedstuffs that we cannot eat. However, they can have negative impacts on the wider environment, by excreting excess nitrogen.

“We know from a scientific standpoint how we can minimise this to reduce pollution from dairy production, although relatively few strategies have been converted into agricultural practice because of the lack of research linking through to on-farm application by the dairy industry.

“The Cowficie​n​cy project is addressing this by providing tools that can help the dairy industry shift towards more efficient and less polluting methods”, added Dr Moorby.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient used by farmers worldwide in both feeds (as protein) and fertilisers.

Used strategically, it increases pasture growth and is a key element in the production of meat and milk.

However, it is continually cycling through the soil, atmosphere and the farm system and its extended use has led to considerable negative effects on the environment.

The Cowficie​n​cy team will be working with farms in Europe to familiarize and accommodate them in describing their nitrogen balance situation using two mathematical models, one cow-based, and the other herd-based.

The models will be updated for amino acid metabolism in the framework of the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS), and include aspects of heifer growth and cattle fertility and economics to encompass the whole lifetime of the animals, increasing not only the accuracy of the models but also their commercial potential.

The final phase of the project will see the implementation of the upgraded models on participating CowficieNcy project farms.

Dr Moorby added​:​ “Increasing the efficiency of nitrogen use in lactating dairy cows will reduce nitrogen pollution from dairy production, and ultimately save the farmer money.”

Continue Reading

Popular This Week