The Blog

Vet -"It Felt Like I'd Turned Up and Just Destroyed His Life's Work"

The emotional impact of bovine TB is not just restricted to the farmers who have to deal with it on a daily basis.

The emotional impact of bovine TB is not just restricted to the farmers who have to deal with it on a daily basis.

More and more vets are finding themselves in the awful situation of having to tell farmers their herds have been infected and their animals are going to have to be slaughtered.

Dealing with increasing numbers of cases like this is putting tremendous stress on them, as this open letter from Gloucestershire vet, Rob Darvill, which was recently brought to my attention, shows.

"Dear fellow vets,

As a vet I'm trained to treat animals and do my best to ensure they live long, healthy and productive lives. I'm not trained to send animals to slaughter. But more of my time is being spent delivering devastating news like this to farmers because of bovine TB.

In the area where I practice in Gloucestershire 78 per cent of the cattle farmers I work with have had a TB breakdown in the past two years. It's a disease you always hope you're never going to find in a herd. When you start getting large numbers of reactors you start crossing your fingers and hoping that the next cow, and the next one, will be clear because you're watching a disaster unfold in front of you and you are powerless to stop it or provide any hope or comfort.

You're essentially watching yourself destroy the business of someone who, until that point, you've been helping by treating and curing their animals so they can thrive. Nothing can prepare you for that.

As an illustration of a typical situation just last week I tested a small (90 milkers) family dairy farm which had previously been free of TB. The farmer's had a closed herd for nine years and he's got no direct neighbours.

But he had 37 TB reactors, including all his calves aged between six weeks and four months. He's a 55-year-old man who's been working 16 or 17 hours a day for the last 20 years with his wife to make his business a success and it felt like I'd turned up and just destroyed his life's work. He couldn't have done any more and there was nothing I could do or say to help him.

There's a personal element to these stories as well. These aren't just random cows that you're condemning to death. They're cows that you recognise, cows that you've been out to calf or to treat. I can't put into words how difficult it is to be the bearer of that kind of news.

The only way TB could have got on to that farmer's farm was through wildlife. And the only way anything can be done to help him, and farmers like him, is to have some control in the wildlife reservoir of infection.

I'm supposed to be advising my clients on how to handle TB in cattle but my hands are tied because of the reservoir of disease in wildlife.

When you've found a lot of reactors your reaction is to look at ways you can help stop the farmer from having to go through something like that again. There are a number of things you can suggest like lifting feed and water troughs off the ground and fencing food stores. But very often the farmers are already doing all these things. They're asking me how they can stop this disease and I'm having to tell them there's nothing more they can do. That's why action needs to be taken now so we can save the lives of tens of thousands of cows every year and give farmers like this a fighting chance.