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'Badgers have cost me 150 cattle'

9 June 2005 - BBC News

As the government launches a trial scheme to vaccinate badgers in an effort to halt the spread of Bovine TB in cattle, one farmer describes the problems the disease has caused him.

Jan Rowe, 60, has worked at the 500-acre Whalley Farm in Andover's Ford, near Cheltenham in the Cotswolds, for 40 years. His father started the operation and his brother runs the dairy business with him. He looks after a herd of 350 cattle. But over the past 20 years, he has lost close to 150 cattle to Bovine TB - nearly 100 of which were infected in the last four years. The latest cow to be taken away for slaughter was removed on Thursday morning.

Mr Rowe believes the disease is spread by the badgers on his farm - but he has been powerless to do anything about them.

"It's a very serious issue, a story we have been trying to tell for a long time," he said. "We have always supported vaccination and welcome this trial, but we should be allowed to cull diseased badgers as well. All we can do is watch them at the moment. It's been quite a grotesque problem in the last seven years or so, and it could be seven to 10 years before an appropriate vaccine is available."

Mr Rowe says Labour's decision after its 1997 election win to ban the culling of badgers, except in trial areas, has cost him dear. His farm is currently operating under restrictions which means he cannot sell his cattle or move his stock.

The costs of Bovine TB
Bovine TB estimated to cost 2,000-20,000 a year
On some farms, cost estimated over 100,000 a year
Between 21,000 and 25,000 affected cattle killed every year
Figures calculated by the University of Exeter

He said: "There was a lot of talk about the 'poor badgers' and a lot of sympathy for them when culling was stopped. Before the mid 1990s, we were under restriction for eight or nine months every three to four years. But now we are free for just eight or nine months every three or four years. Being under restriction means you cannot plan for the future as you just don't know what is going to happen, when the restrictions will be lifted. Some farms have been restricted for seven years at a time. We get tested every 60 days but as we cannot sell our cattle, we'll be shooting about 100 bull calves as it's just not worth keeping them in financial terms. It's very emotive for a herdsman to be up all night delivering them and then having to kill them the next day."

Compensation is provided allowing many farmers hit with Bovine TB to break even, but coupled with the BSE crisis and foot-and-mouth, some have simply given up. But Mr Rowe is determined to survive. "I'll be blowed if I'm going to give up after a lifetime of work and considerable financial investment but it's so hard. It makes life so uncertain."

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