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The badger vaccination programme: Is it working?

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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.”

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Farming

Welsh Cobs return to the farmyard at Llanerchaeron

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Welsh Cobs at Llanerchaeron

HORSES have returned to the traditional farmyard at Llanerchaeron near Aberaeron, which is cared for by National Trust Cymru. 

Tomos and Seren, two eighteen-year-old Welsh Cobs, have been living together for over a decade and recently moved into the Welsh farmyard. 

Visitors will be able to meet the horses when they visit, during certain times of the day at the stable blocks.

Please check opening times before visiting www.nationaltrust.org.uk/llanerchaeron.

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Farming

Ceredigion farmers left high and dry by lack of UK-NZ trade deal protections

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PLAID CYMRU politicians have expressed significant concerns regarding the impact the new trade deal stuck between the UK and New Zealand will have on Ceredigion farmers. 

The free trade agreement between New Zealand and the UK Government was signed on 28 February 2022 and is set to open the doors to a significant import of meat produce which could potentially hit the farming sector in Wales harder than in any other part of the UK. 

NFU Cymru has recently raised concerns about the deal, stating that the potential negative cumulative impact of this cannot be overstated. 

The New Zealand trade deal follows another similar deal with Australia, and while it offers significant upsides for farmers on the other side of the world, it potentially creates significant marketplace changes for Welsh farming. 

Figures from the Farmers Union of Wales state the agreement could see the amount of beef that can be imported tariff-free from New Zealand rise immediately to 12,000 then gradually to 38,820 tonnes in ten years’ time. Further rises would occur in the subsequent five years, after which there would be no limit. A similar increase would also be seen in lamb, with the amount that could be imported tariff-free would increase by 35,000 tonnes per annum in years one to four, then by 50,000 tonnes per annum in years five to fifteen, after which there would be no limit. 

Plaid Cymru’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, has today (2 March, 2022) raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the Welsh Government in the Senedd. 

Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “While the spin will be about benefits, the truth is that this trade deal is a real cause for concern for Welsh farmers. 

“The agreement will provide a 15 year transitional period, and it states that they will only be able to ‘utilise new access to the UK sheep meat market once they have filled 90% of their existing World Trade Organization (WTO) quota’. 

“However, this leaves Welsh farmers at the whim of a market whereby they have no control nor input. Should something change in the sheep meat market then New Zealand meat would suddenly end up here or in the EU and undermine Welsh farmers. 

“By failing to ensure that there are tariffs on imports here the UK Government have left Welsh farmers completely open to the whims of a market which they have no say and no protection. 

Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales added: “Let us be clear, this trade deal is a gross betrayal of Ceredigion farmers. The UK Government’s own analysis suggests that the number of people working in agriculture will be negatively impacted by this deal, whilst it also threatens to undermine the entire Welsh agriculture sector – which we know is far more susceptible to harm from a poor trade deal than other farmers in other parts of the UK.  

As we face a climate emergency, importing more food from the other side of the world that could be produced sustainably here in Wales, does not make any sense whatsoever. 

Clearly, efforts must now be taken at Westminster to ensure that the Welsh farming sector is safeguarded from the potential negative impact of this agreement.”  

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Farming

Total Dispersal of Hidden Gem Welsh Dairy Herd

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Clywedog Abro Katie

HARRISON & HETHERINGTON have today announced that they will be the sale managers for the dispersal sale of 700 pedigree Holsteins from the impressive Clywedog herd. 

The two-day sale will be held on behalf of Rhys and Huw Jones at Old Llwyn Onn Farm, Wrexham, on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th February.

Day one of the sale will comprise 320 milking animals and 180 heifer calves up to six months of age. 

Day two will see 200 youngstock selling with in-calf, bulling and heifer calves down to six months of age. Notably, a large percentage of the herd and most of the in-calf heifers carry pregnancies by female sexed sires.

In the last two years Harrison & Hetherington have expanded their on-farm dispersal sales service across the UK and Ireland and Glyn Lucas, Senior Pedigree Dairy Auctioneer, is delighted that they have been invited to manage this special sale: “The Clywedog Pedigree Holstein herd is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. This complete dispersal sale offers the modern kind of cow that the modern milk producer appreciates. 

Auctioneer Glyn Lucas

“The cows are powerful and exhibit outstanding width of rump and chest, and are in excellent body condition. The production records on two times a day milking is impressive and the potential these cows have to increase on a three times a day or robotic management system is exciting. In addition, all of the animals going under the hammer have been tested for export.”

At the most recent milk recording in mid-January the herd averaged 41kgs at 4.42% butterfat and 3.31% protein with somatic cell count of 63.  The herd has exceptional fertility with the current calving interval running at 378 days and the current days in milk is 134 days.

The latest classification saw 17 new Excellent cows, 39 new Very Good cows, 14 new Very Good milking heifers and 24 new Good Plus heifers.  The sale will have a total of 41 Excellent, 141 Very Good and 138 Good Plus animals in the sale.

Herd health status is exemplary with IBR, BVD and Lepto protocols all managed in conjunction with farm vet, Rob George from Nantwich Farm Vets. Additionally, the herd has never had a case of TB and all animals are tested for export.

Clywedog Group Two

Giving further background, owner and breeder Rhys Jones said: “We established our pedigree herd in 1990 and have worked hard over the years to create high yielding, long-lasting herd of beautiful cows. Our mission has been to produce high type cows, and to that end we have selected the best genetics from Cogent and Semex. The stock is in excellent condition, they have been looked after with loving care and I know that the animals will go on to do very well. 

“However, the time has come for Huw and I to ease off; I will soon be 64 and it’s time to hang up my hat.  We would all like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years.  We have taken great pride in producing a herd with long lasting cows and heifers and we will both get a lot of satisfaction in watching our breeding develop in herd around the UK.”

Harrison & Hetherington are renowned auctioneers, selling all classes of pedigree and commercial livestock and is one of the UK’s foremost auctioneers for Dairy Cattle. Being located in one of the largest milk producing areas in the UK, its weekly sales at Borderway, Carlisle, attract top quality dairy cattle and buyers. 

Harrison & Hetherington are also the principal official society auctioneers to many breed societies and area clubs, and regularly hold dispersal or collective sales on site and on farms across mainland UK and Ireland.

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