Rarely has the Home Farm looked so tidy. The last muck has been spread, the buildings stand eerily quiet. My long serving stockman Wally Elvin, still missing his cattle, now has to content himself battling ivy on trees and walls, strimming verges and field surrounds, spraying nettles and thistles, generally doing the sort of work we seldom had time for when spring and summer were filled with routine worming of young cattle, checking their condition, their feet and eyes at least daily, moving them around the meadows, carting silage and hay bales into early summer then straw bales for winter feed and bedding. There was never much peace on a stock farm.
It’s a revelation, too, for me. My first year without a bovine on the farm and, while we still miss them, we don’t miss the endless work involved for not a lot of return. The best miss of the lot, though, is not to have those routine and interminable TB tests. Events which, apart from the inconvenience, became a huge strain on everyone involved.
With the unreliability of the archaic neck/skin tests, there is absolutely no confidence among anyone involved on the farms, including the local vets and probably the Government vets as well, that test failures won’t continue to appear in even the healthiest herds. These destroy the confidence of all involved. Unfortunately ‘Deathra’ seems quite unconcerned about these wholesale failings, and appears happy to continue with the system.
Thousands of store cattle continue moving up from the western regions to be finished in the South East having had inadequate testing, to spread the disease amongst previously clean herds. There is a far better but more expensive system, Gamma blood testing, which would certainly cut down not only the hardship and disruption to farms but also substantially reduce the huge cost of the overall compensation bill for government.
Some 30,000-plus mainly healthy adult cattle a year are killed as TB ‘reactors or inconclusives’ off farms. From our own experiences, most had no sign of TB when, and if, samples were even tested. A total waste of lives. It’s the main reason I refer to the department as Deathra. Their stance on TB testing continues to be appalling.
The farming industry loses tens of thousands of cattle annually to TB; animals killed because Deathra won’t update to this more accurate system of testing. Few of the slaughtered stock show any signs of TB. They are all being taken away and killed, disrupting the viability of herds, disrupting generations-long breeding programmes in which so many farmers have taken such a pride and, just as importantly, disrupting, often breaking the spirits of, so many good people who have made dairy and beef farming their lives. I know, because this happened to our herd. I know why, and who is responsible, as do Deathra, because they could do much more to help.
Back in May I wrote of the pollution neighbouring farms and the local golf course had suffered, and of a visit from an inspector, driving a Southern Water van, to take samples. The fellow said categorically: “It is sewage”, and that they would get back to us. Well they didn’t. So Emma contacted them and received a very interesting response.
Firstly the lady said the “tester had reached the wrong conclusion”, secondly, that he “wasn’t directly employed by them” and thirdly that there was “no sign of sewage in the samples” he had taken. It was clearly a case of the left hand not knowing what the right was saying, or perhaps not wanting to?
Since we local farmers have been getting considerable pressure recently from local authority ‘enforcement’ officers demanding we clear our main ditches so that they can drain away to sea, we have become particularly interested in the matter. One neighbour discovered that his outflow pipes were almost silted over by the adjacent rife which, having itself not had any serious maintenance from the Environment Agency for 30-plus years, is seriously silted.
And there lies the problem. The drainage system relies on water being able to flow downstream to the sea to the south. Yet since the main rife is full of silt, all that happens in such extreme conditions is that instead of flowing downstream, big flood surges cause it to flow upstream because it cannot get away. Then the sewage, released from a nearby treatment plant (permissible in exceptional conditions) into the rife is also pushed back up the nearby floodplain into our ditches, over farmland, and in this case the golf course, spreading pollution across the whole area.
We don’t know what drugs, viruses or sewage residue is involved, but whatever it is, it has been spread over hundreds of acres of good land. I cannot help wondering what the authorities’ reaction would have been had this been caused by a stock farm and its discharge from slurry pits or silage effluent. Perhaps the same authorities would have ignored this problem in the same forgiving manner? Of course in the meantime the Environment Agency will do what it always does; obfuscate.
We had a bit of excitement in late May when the vine planters arrived on the hill farm to start planting the first vine grafts. A handy bit of kit; German staffed, they had arrived from Norfolk having previously been planting vines across England and Wales. Drilling one row with two men feeding in, all GPS controlled at the rate of 20,000-plus a day. Next the anti-pest tubes were put on. As I write the vines are already budding. Watch this space.