TB-stricken farmers raise questions over department efficiency in tackling TB

Questions have been posed on the efficiency of Ireland’s Bovine TB Eradication Programme by farmers who are currently facing the stark consequences of the disease.

Ian Dunne, a dairy farmer from Co. Cavan, spoke to AgriLand about the difficulties he has encountered when his herd went down with TB in recent times – a situation which he says has not been helped by “long waiting times” for getting reactor animals removed from his farm by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

First commenting on his most recent herd test, approximately seven weeks ago in which 18 animals were found to be reactors, Ian said: “It took them over a month before they took the animals.

I had to ring up after a month to see were they not going to collect them.

Upon getting in contact, Ian says a department official informed him that she understood that the animals had already been collected. It was later agreed that the animals would be taken the following Monday.

Of the 18 reactors, two cows were very close to calving, which the Cavan farmer says he flagged up at the time.

He says he was told that it wouldn’t be a problem, however, when the cattle were collected a few days later, the two were left behind as “the haulier said he couldn’t take the animals”, Ian outlined.

The two reactor animals calved shortly after the others were taken and, as of last Monday, November 11, they were still on the farmer’s holding.

So they are still there three weeks after; they’re still here. Both of them calved the week the others went, but they’re still there.

Continuing, Ian noted that he had received a call from the department last Wednesday, November 6, enquiring as to why the two remaining reactors are still on his profile. He said that, as of last Monday, nothing had been done about the animals since.

Outlining his concern over delays in getting the animals removed – pushing the hope of clear tests further away by the day – he said: “We’re supposed to milk these cows, or not feed them and put them dry – we’re left in limbo with the cattle because they’re not doing anything about them.”

He also outlined his worry that the longer reactors remain on farm, the more likely they are to spread the disease.

Ian explained that this is not the first time he has had issues with the department over TB, as the farmer has grappled with being locked up with the disease “six or seven times” since the year 2000.

Last March, he went down in the previous herd test – losing 59 cows, a bull and a calf in the intervening time to the disease.

With about 40 cows left, Ian requested a full herd depopulation. As of last Friday afternoon, November 15, it emerged that the department has told him that a full depopulation will take place.

Farmer welfare

Also in conversation with AgriLand, a neighbour of Ian’s, fellow dairy farmer Seamus Shannon, highlighted the physical and mental strain a farmer endures when a herd goes down with TB.

When the TB comes back at you, you try to say ‘ah this will be alright; it’s outside the house’, but day after day it does wear on you. It affects everyone.

Both Ian and Seamus highlighted that farmer welfare should be taken into account more by authorities when dealing with the issue of TB, noting that the matter “is stressful enough for herd owners” without these added factors compounding the situation even further.

Animal health chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Hugh Farrell said that delays in getting animals removed “can’t be tolerated” if the country is to get TB levels down.

“The situation with the two farmers involved is typical of what is happening around the country; they’re not isolated in what’s happening.

Depopulation is the only way of resolving this issue here due to continuous breakdowns.

“At the TB forum we were given an undertaking that all animals would be removed within seven days; then that was amended to seven days from valuation. We’re disappointed with that,” Farrell said.

Department response

Responding to the comments made by the Cavan farmers, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine highlighted a number of factors that can impact on removal time, following the valuing of reactor animals being taken.

“These include the Gamma Interferon Testing or GIF testing of additional animals in the herd, delays caused by waiting for medicines withdrawal periods to elapse and most recently, the protests by farmers at factories.”

The Department of Agriculture closely monitors removal times and is focused on delivering improvements where possible, the spokesperson added.

The most recent (end of Q3 2019) national average timeframe for removal of affected cattle was 18.92 calendar days. This reflects an improvement when compared to 19.54 days from the same period last year.

“During the period of time waiting for the reactors to be removed, it is important that herdowners ensure that the reactor cattle are isolated from the rest of the herd. This is to protect those cattle not affected by the breakdown.

“In line with animal welfare legislation, the transportation of heavily pregnant or recently calved heifers is not permitted; this prohibition is not exclusive to reactor animals, it applies to all cattle,” the department spokesperson concluded.