Cheshire dairy farmer Ian McGrath has been fighting an almost constant battle with bovine TB since 2002 – but the results of his most recent positive TB test have been particularly hard to bear.
“Today we’ve got 11 TB reactors being loaded up. It’s particularly hard because among the animals going today is probably the best cow I’ve ever bred,” he said. “What’s really upsetting is that she’s actually eight weeks off calving and we know she’s carrying a heifer calf. But, to be blunt, that cow will be dead by dinner time as will the calf inside her.”
Among the other animals taken away for slaughter after testing positive for the disease was one of Ian’s stock bulls – Fred – who was one of the last calves Ian’s dad saw born on the farm.
“Fred was born a few days before my dad died suddenly and dad picked him out and said what a good calf he was and that we ought to keep him for breeding. So we kept him for breeding and now, 15 months on, he’s gone with TB. Hopefully, though, he’s got some cows in calf and we’ll have some calves by Fred before Christmas.”
Ian has lost more than 130 cattle to bTB over the past 13 years and the relentless pressure of dealing with the disease has had a big impact on him and his family.
“It gets to the point of being soul destroying really. What almost is the point of breeding the best cows. We’ve still got to carry on in the hope that one day we’ll be clear of TB. It’s mentally exhausting to do this every 60 days.
“We’ve come to expect it but it doesn’t make it any easier. You have to shut it out of your mind and forget that they’ve gone and just start milking again tonight and hope that the next load of heifers to calve will replace them.
“As farmers we accept that cattle have to go for slaughter but when they’re going for TB it’s very premature in their life and it’s not the way we expect it,” he said.