How do farmers pay for bovine TB?

Farmers pay a significant amount with regard to bovine TB and in a variety of ways.

First of all they pay for the cattle control measures. Farmers in endemic areas routinely test their cattle every year, some every six months, and in a breakdown situation (when bTB is confirmed in a herd) they are testing every 60 days. Even for those without TB in their herds, pre-movement testing is required before any animal can be moved off farm.

It is estimated that the average cost of a routine bTB test for a farmer is around £350. Testing requires additional labour and causes significant stress, often leading to injuries to both stock and those people handling them, but also results in loss of income because cows don’t milk as well and beef animals don’t put on as much weight. It is widely recognised that the stress of handling can make animals more susceptible to other conditions and even cause pregnant cows to abort.

According to Defra figures, the estimated average cost of a bovine TB breakdown on farm is £34,000, although this figure can vary enormously from farm-to-farm. Of that, around £14,000 falls on the farm business itself as a result of the loss of animals, on-farm costs of testing, and business disruption due to movement restrictions.

An interim report published by the University of Exeter, looked at the costs of bTB breakdowns on eight case study farms from the South West of England.

One of the dairy farms used in the study, which lost 61 cows to bTB, estimated that the loss of these animals alone cost their farm £56,364 in milk sales. Consequential losses such as these are not recoverable by the affected farm business under the compensation scheme.

In addition, the money paid for animals which are slaughtered does not always truly reflect the value, particularly of breeding stock.

Herd restrictions put on trading animals after a breakdown can also be very expensive. Some farmers cannot sell animals and become overstocked, others cannot buy replacement stock to maintain their business and both situations can lead to big cash flow problems.

In addition, looking at the purely financial costs disregards the enormous emotional damage bTB does to farming families.