Bovine TB


I heard this suggestion several years ago from a clever colleague.  I haven’t heard it since but I bet he’s right – although it’s a bit late in the day now.

Is there any genetic basis for immunity to bovine TB in cattle? If so, why aren’t we using the more immune breeds of cattle?  Is there any chance that ancient breeds have greater immunity than the strains of Holstein-Friesians that have been selected so strictly for their milk-producing capacity that they may have had bTB resistance bred out of them?

And even with the black-and-white beasts, is there genetic variation in susceptibity? I bet there is?

Has breeding for milk production above everything else been an own goal for the dairy industry? And similar arguments apply to beef cattle.


Just a thought.

By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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59 Replies to “Bovine TB”

  1. Are the 'clever colleagues' voices being drowned out by the more vociferous, more opinionated less clever ones at either extreme of the arguement? Just a thought!

    1. Mark - not really. As I think I have said before, a sad thing about the bovine TB issue is that almost all the effort is about talking about badgers rather than finding a solution to the bTB problem.

  2. Lots of questions.
    Some of which can be answered here.

  3. I see a lot of dead Badgers on the roadside nowadays when it was quite rare a few years ago.
    Has anyone ever checked these corpses for gunshot wounds? Perhaps the cull started everywhere some time ago??

    1. Howard - there has certainly been some indiscriminate and illegal badger-killing ever since the badger was protected.

    2. It has been well known (in farming circles at least) that one always disposes of the carcass by a road to rot!

  4. And whilst any blue government shilly shallys around, ignoring sense and science both genetic and immunological, more keen to blindside their land-owning friends into voting for them again .... bTB will remain a "problem" (deliberate inverted commas) - and cattle will be killed alongside protected native mammals such as badgers.... ad nauseum.

    Please don't forget:

    These culls were piloted to see if badgers could be killed effectively and humanely with a view to rolling out any "effective, humane culls" across bTB hotspots in the future to "try to control" bTB.

    And yesterday, the beaten up farming minister David Heath finally allegedly admitted to Lord Krebs that:
    "...[the cull] would not be able to statistically determine either the effectiveness [in terms of badgers removed] or humaneness of controlled shooting".

    Sweet baby Moses.

    As an "independent environmental expert" (your words), what would it take to convince you that these badger culls are not the way forward.

  5. Mark.
    I wasn't sure about your view (whether you were convinced or "unconvinced") about these culls from your recent posts on the matter.
    That clears my stuffy heid up.

    1. Doug - these badger culls are ill-conceived. The 'plan' to reduce bovine TB is ill-conceived. I wouldn't rule out though, that badger-killing may have to play some part in disease control. Vaccination has always been the way forward and farmers' 'leaders' and politicians have been remiss in not investing more money in it sooner.

  6. Mark,

    because cattle are only tested for the presence of antibodies against bTB, the current cattle culling process actually works against the development of herd immunity in cattle. So cattle that have successfully recovered from a bTB infection are removed from the herd alongside those who are succumbing. Not only this but the current bTB test, which is basically the same as the one developed against human TB about 100 years ago, is only about 75% accurate, with not only false positives, but also false negatives. So under the current testing regime, cattle with bTB are being cleared by testing and going back into teh herd to infect their fellow cows, and of course other vulnerable animals, like badgers.

    The idea that the stress and unhealthy diet that our dairy cows and to a lesser extent beef cows are put under, to gain weight as quickly as possible, or to produce as much milk as possible, leads to susceptibility to bTB (and other diseases) has been kicking around for a very long time. Is there definitive evidence? I haven't seen it, presumably because the research councils don't see it as a high priority research area to fund.

    I liken feeding a high fructose diet of maizage, processed grain and if they're lucky some high sugar varieties of rye grass to dairy cows, as feeding children on a diet consisting mostly of fizzy drinks and high calorie snacks. We know what happens to the children. What may also be a factor is that the badgers are also drawn to consume the same diet, chomping their way through maize in the fields, and feeding at the high protein cattle troughs. Are their immune systems also succumbing? More research is needed.

    One further thought - while it's tragic for a farmer to lose their cattle to bTB, in fact the way we operate the bTB culling system in this country means that only cattle that react positively to the test are culled, not the entire herd. In Europe if one animal tests positive the entire herd is culled. So although this means potential herd immunity is lost, the risk of leaving the false negative-tested infected animals in the herd is removed.

  7. How much would it cost to ring fence the area of TB and have no cattle in it at all? And pay the farmers to use alternative agriculture even bird friendly crops! With so many farmers going out of dairy the extra milk quoter would be well received else where!

  8. I cannot see the cull working in anything but a short-term and localised capacity even from a basic logical argument. bTB is carried by a number of animals including the farm cat (presumably the sheep dog too), rats, mice and various small carnivores. The first three are just as likely to be in contact with cattle as badgers so it is likely the disease will reverse back into badgers and cattle through some other vector. Even Owen Paterson's evidence does not stack up because the Irish results were achieved in conjunction with non-lethal work done in Northern Ireland and Anitpodean examples mostly involved non-native vectors with very different ecology from the badger. Indeed, the figures mentioned by Owen Paterson for percentage success (23% reduction) is hardly an argument for efficiency given the cull vs inoculation is being justified on the grounds of cost.

    As Miles points out, testing for bTB is no better than 75% effective and has to be 100% (it cannot even be 99.9% effective) effective to prevent re-infection in the longer term.

  9. Might I also add to the mix, that some bad apples in the barrel contaminate the whole lot; all tarred with the same brush.......
    So there are farmers who switch tags to avoid their favourite cow going for slaughter - there are farmers who move cattle against regulations - and farmers still move cattle about the country, despite as mentioned above the "not 100%" safe testing that goes on. Therefore cattle with tb will get moved.
    After foot and mouth how many farmers bought replacements from areas of the country with rife tb.......and ensured tb spread.
    It is an in-exact science, and the vast majority try to work within a difficult system, to the best of their ability........but there will always be slip ups, bad apples etc.
    None of this helps badgers - and don't forget other wild mammals get tb too!

    Oh yes, and to nail my colours to the mast, the cull is bad science as it will spread the problem, so no, I certainly don't agree with it.

  10. I read somewhere recently that the shot badgers were not going to be tested to see if they were infected by TB. I wonder why that might be? Are the Government frightened what the reaction will be if they turn out to be disease free.?

    1. I think they almost certainly are afraid of the reaction, Chris. The Coalition has brought in so many measures against public opinion and particularly in conservation/farming/countryside pursuits that a gaffe such as that would bring about immediate calls for a General Election. What encourages me most over this issue is that so many people have figured out the bad science behind the justification for culling. I have seen some fantastic essays from Chris Packham (1.) Steve Backshall (2.) in recent days and both have been widely shared on Facebook.



    1. Trimbush, I am not against a proper badger cull if it proved necessary and while I am not at all sure the current cull is the right one it doesn't help for your blog to show clearly inaccurate figures. Have a look at your chart, presumably produced before 2008, showing that by 2008 the annual cattle slaughtered 'will be' 40,000. We are now in 2013 and everyone is quoting 28,000. Whilst I agree that is 28,000 too many it does seem to make a mockery of your published figures.

      1. Hi Bob

        You'll find UK total has been recently split - 28k = England (ie not Wales)
        - something the Badger Trust uses to describe a Badger TB reduction

      2. The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts was 15,250 during January to May 2013 (Defra, 14.08.13)

  11. Thank you Ian for providing a link to Chris Packham's excellent piece.
    I hope everyone reading this blog reads his thoughts.

    1. Is that the same Chris Packham who said on the telly that badgers are the perfect shape to fit through tunnels and to create them, and if you look at it end on ... it's perfect for passing down through a tunnel.
      If so, I can't wait for his deep thoughts about fish.

  12. The very same.
    Many people who know me know I am hardly Chris packham's biggest fan.
    But his most recent summary of the state of affairs is indeed excellent and worth reading (I think) Filbert.

  13. I'm not in favour of the current cull at all, but have some sympathies with farmers who have lost their animals 'before their time', never a good experience.
    For me the cull raises quite a few questions I'm hoping someone will be able to answer assuming any research in these areas has ever been done.

    Bovine tb is thankfully rare up here but there are areas with a reasonable number of badgers and there's no shortage of deer. Has anyone tested for Btb in these populations of badgers to see if it is significantly less than that in the core areas which is already low (so low that DEFRA aren't testing carcasses for fear of the negative results?)
    How does the incidence of Btb in cattle vary throughout the year?
    Is testing (for what it's worth - see above) carried out equally year round are is it seasonal?
    Is there a percentage difference between breakdowns in extensive herds v intensive; between 'traditional' breeds and high pedigree 'modern' breeds?
    How does the keeping of cattle in sheds all winter affect the likelihood of disease transmission especially when combined with their winter diet (see above). There's certainly plenty of scope for contact with farily long-lived carriers such as cats rats and dogs in those conditions, which if You Tube is to be believed are often not the most hygenic of places.
    wrt summer grazing does the diet of mono-cultured rye grass have an effect on the immune system rather than an old-fashioned but far less productive grazing meadow containing many pecies of grass and herbaceous plants?
    Or is it equaly pernicious across all types of cattle in all systems at all times of year?

    My fear is that some of this cull may be a way of 'clearing the ground' for the super-herds that have been in the news recently, further increasding the intensification of the system and meaning even more may be at stake for said herdss from disease from whatever source leading to more scapegoating and more serious culling such as gassing whole populations.

    Tbh the whole thing stinks as bad as an unretrievable dead badger down a sett

  14. No one in my experience comes up with a better solution,fact is we no vaccine.
    Even the one for Badgers needs doing every year,every Badger needs catching,it is no good to those already infected.
    Get real those who talk about farmers swopping tags in general they have nothing to gain by that as in 3 months time it will be tested again,it is just a ridiculous claim like lots of others peddling untruths about something they know nothing about.
    Another load of crap about farmers shooting Badgers disposing them by roadside,living in the farming community and being in farming for 45 years have never ever once heard such things happening,of course as soon as one bright spark says it it is absolute gospel.Please just use your brains with all the space at a farmers disposal why would he take the chance of being caught with a shot Badger,no he would bury it or chuck it in the slurry pit.
    Chris Packham says cull Deer but what does he know about our Badger problems my guess is certain people have a agenda that they have to object to anything seeing as they put pressure on the Government to stop the cull in 1997 that was definitely working leaving us now with almost impossible task to solve but it will have to be solved and we certainly have double the Badgers that is sustainable for Hedgehogs and perhaps Bumblebees.
    Instead of just being against the cull someone needs to come up with some answers quickly if only for Badgers and other wildlifes sake.
    Vaccine does not seem to be the answer at the moment seeing as there must be lots of infected Badgers.
    Just maybe everyone is prejudging things and if the cull is done on the basis of where a farm has a BTB outbreak those Badgers on the farm are culled then surely there is a reasonable chance of it working.
    I would in a ideal world like no Badger to be killed but that will not be possible I believe
    Lets not have this rubbish from Chris Packham more or less saying farmers are bllodthirsty thugs,in general and certainly during my45 years with a dairy herd we spent lots of time and effort saving cattle lives from calves upto fully grown cows and that is what farmers do,not go around killing.Even when calves were worthless we still in most instances at calving helped calve the cow and kept the calf hoping for better times.
    How I wish people with no knowledge of farmers and how farmers think would not peddle inaccurate statements.Doubt there is one instance of a farmer telling Brian May how to play a guitar just to mention one name but there are simply hundreds who know farmers business better than farmers themselves.
    One last fact that puts to bed the silly fact farmers spreading BTB.If a farmer wants to sell a animal it has to be tested for TB before being sold.Simple straightforward fact.Farmers will obviously go to great lengths to ensure they do not get BTB on their farm,surely anyone can see that we certainly should not need to point it out.
    Thank you Mark.You know I like Badgers and this is not a kill Badger rant,just wish someone had a answer but no one ever comes up with a creditable one.
    Personally cannot see any other way than in future we so called bite the bullet and where a farm gets BTB those infected cattle and if we can identify them the infected Badgers on that farm culled.

    1. Where to start Dennis. Why should it be so hard to believe that farmers swap tags? Was it not the hasty movement of cattle that not only spread FMD to areas that did not previously have it, but also dispersed bTB during the re-supply following FMD? No one is pretending that all farmers do this but as Mark W says, it only takes a few bad apples. No amount of special pleading is going to work because it has been shown that it happens and as already pointed out, the testing is not 100% certain anyway so it is perfectly possible to move an infected animal on by accident let alone deliberately. One thing that is known about the badger reservoir for bTB is that not all areas have it so we have the chicken and egg scenario. Added to this is the possibility of threatened badgers deserting setts into areas not currently infected. DEFRA are not testing the badgers they destroy and therefore they are potentially creating an avalanche effect (presumably with the whole bTB argument in badgers too with respect to the chicken and egg scenario) that on the surface will seem to support justification culling but on closer examination will have been the cause of wider problems.

      Similarly, why do you find the illegal killing of badgers and their subsequent underhand disposal so hard to believe? It may not be widespread but it does happen and I can assure you the accusations I have heard come from a number of people who have nothing to gain from making such a claim.

      What does Chris Packham know about badgers? I find this quite an amazing question given the gist of your post is questioning everyone else's qualifications to comment on matters. Chris Packham studied badgers for at least five years as part of academia and a good deal more as a hobby. In fact, Chris makes the very point that your post will do as much to create and that is to widen the gap between urban and rural people. Traditionally, rural communities have always resented interference from urbanites into their lives and I can completely understand why. However, politically, many rural communities are quite small and still field an MP to Parliament, which means the rural vote is out of proportion and actually effects the lives of hundreds of thousands (not quite like the Rotten Borough a la Blackadder but still influential). Given also that our food comes from rural communities and our money sustains the trade (not to mention subsidies that are paid for through taxation), I can see a very logical reason why urban and rural people should be talking to each other and not creating artificial and seemingly spiritual divisions. I think Chris makes this point very well and you would not believe how hard some of us are finding life under a government that consistently finds the wrong solutions and then fails to listen. It is bad enough that politicians do not think certain people should have an opinion without that coming from people in neighbouring communities too.

      Incidentally, I doubt that Brian May would take it so badly if someone told him how to play the guitar. In fact, music critics generally tell someone when they think the cannot play or whether their music is liked and I am sure Queen had their share so the analogy breaks down in examination. Indeed, any musician who was susceptible to criticism would almost certainly have a very short career so whilst the analogy breaks down, the comparison does not and I am sure you can see why.

      Incidentally, I have a similar academic background to Chris Packham and whilst I live in suburbia, I tend to spend much of my time in the nearer or wider countryside. By coincidence I am also a guitarist. 😉

      1. "Given also that our food comes from rural communities and our money sustains the trade (not to mention subsidies that are paid for through taxation),"

        Does it? Agriculture representing 0.7% of UK GDP (ref ONS) at end 2012 suggests not and also provides another perspective? Is our (indiginous) wildlife more valuable?

        Is it also true that we import more milk than we export. Read that somewhere!

        1. Phil, to be fair, I never intended the comment to be definitive and within the context I made it, it still holds true. As for importing more milk than we export, surely that is a relative thing given we have one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. The main gist of the point is that Dennis is intimating that urban communities should not have a say in rural life and I do not believe that should be the case.

          1. Ian, yes I was being slightly mischievous and slightly serious.

            If, like most things these days we measure values in purely economic terms then a whole industry (agriculture) is worth £10.79 billion (not sure how much of that is diary cattle). Compare that to the £47 billion we paid in 2012 to service the interest on the national debt and it puts it into another type of perspective?

            Value of Badgers in my way of thinking - priceless !!!

            btw I estimate £54 billion in interest next year (add the 2013 borrowing (ie the deficit) to last years national debt and calculate 4.23% of it - d'ya think Mark Carney will take me on?)

  15. Very good response by Miles on this issue. The Government and NFU propaganda ignores so many of the 'facts' in favour of a few often irrelevant points that support their case. Unless you know a lot about the issue it would be so easy to believe the hype.
    Just a point to add to Miles' response; btb can be infectious but not all infected animals are infectious. It is well known for human TB and bTB that stress is one of the conditions that can turn an infected animal into an infectious one. Intensive stock farming is stressful for animals and disturbing badgers by killing members of the family group is another activity which will increase the odds of the disease becoming infectious. Infectious animals can pass the bacteria in nasal discharge droplets, stock kept in buildings is the ideal environment for the bacteria and its spread. The testing regime for stock is just not rigorous enough. When bTB was nearly eradicated [after the 2nd world war I think] any herd which had a reactor was culled, the buildings disinfected and the farm not restocked for a period of time. No badgers were killed.
    Using the statistics of the number of cattle killed due to bTB and making it sound horrendous masks the much higher number of cattle that either die of, or are destroyed due to other diseases - e.g. mastitis.
    The Defra/Government/NFU handling of this whole issue really stinks.

  16. What does this government care about wildlife. In their ignorance they "knee jerk" to any straw offered. Who runs the country? Thatcher said she wanted the UK to be like the US. It is, it is run by business, not the people.

  17. More simple facts.
    these cows producing lots of milk are at least as resistant to getting TB as those in poorer condition producing less milk,the modern cow is a very healthy cow in general.the problems she encounters disease wise is just different to past generations and especially where TB is concerned with all species fitness does not save you if the infection is close to you.
    For certain less productive breeds and uncommon breeds of today go down with TB just the same ref Adams farm on Countryfile just as a example.
    Miles two things from your sensible blog --the test that you say is not accurate served us very well I believe for 50 years.
    Of course seeing as we now have rampant TB in our cattle thanks to the Government stopping even the very very small amount of Badger culling during the 1990s there is no way that we could take the option of total herd culling when some in the herd is infected and of course that herd is tested every 3 months until clear which has always worked in the past in the sense of the period 1960 to 1997.
    DMD your person who you believe to be so brilliant on BTB made a comment on TV which went like this"Golden Eagles are getting knocked down by Sea Eagles" obviously he meant by knocking down they were getting injured or killed.
    I can tell you those expert on Eagles say that is bullshit the Golden Eagle is quite capable of looking after itself so before taking his word as gospel on TB just consider he sometimes puts his foot in his mouth.
    Very much doubt if Chris Packham has ever worked on a farm with cattle that also had a Badger sett on it.He wants a Deer cull so are Badgers more valuable than Deer.
    Has he ever come up with a workable solution to the problem no just talks a load of vitriol that does no good whatsoever just inflames the situation.
    The ironic part about these people going around trying to disturb the cull is that they are not finding where any cull is taking place and all they are doing is stopping the Badgers feeding and at the moment especially with the dry ground Badgers must be struggling to feed.

    1. Oh Dennis....

      "...just consider he sometimes puts his foot in his mouth."

      Let's talk more about feet and mouths shall we? Or more specifically, Foot and Mouth disease (FMD).

      Let's now mention government policies and what at least seems like a link between cattle movement restrictions being lifted post FMD and M.Bovis spreading 'round the country.

      Ian Peters above has responded with more thoroughness than me (to your original post) and mentions FMD.

      But if you need a link to investigate further.... you might (not) like to read this:
      A suggestion.
      Read from "Epidemiology of bovine TB" onwards.

      Dennis - Your words serve only to potentially and dangerously erode the sympathy many people against the cull (including Chris Packham - read his piece Dennis - there's not one molecule of vitriol there) have for their beleaguered farmers.

      1. "not one molecule of vitriol there"

        Not there, but in the MSM - wrath ignorance bloody bleed brutalist thugs liars frauds destroy dishonour

    2. 'Miles two things from your sensible blog –the test that you say is not accurate served us very well I believe for 50 years.
      Of course seeing as we now have rampant TB in our cattle thanks to the Government stopping even the very very small amount of Badger culling during the 1990s there is no way that we could take the option of total herd culling when some in the herd is infected and of course that herd is tested every 3 months until clear which has always worked in the past in the sense of the period 1960 to 1997.'

      Dennis I can see elements of the 'if it is not broke, don't fix it' argument in this passage and in many cases that would be absolutely correct. Unfortunately, you cannot get away from the fact that cattle movement is and has been proved to spread disease around the country. I am sorry but this point is going to be thrown back at you ad nauseum if you continue to use the same arguments but the FMD crisis showed us all in graphic detail how this works. Cattle movements have always taken place and they were suspected to have been the cause of FMD spreading in the 1960s but there was less monitoring of movement going on to be sure of the facts. The key point being that virtually all farming with the possible exception of sheep has intensified in the last 50 years, which means the system no longer has the status quo it had in the early part of the 20th Century in respect of the spread of livestock diseases (BSE was hardly a product of less intensive methods, for example). Therefore, Miles is perfectly right to consider that the testing is no longer adequate for purpose.

      As Doug MD has pointed out, Chris Packham's essay does not contain the vitriol and anger that you imagine. In fact, I read it with a large amount of wistful sadness. No Dennis, Chris is making the point that I made above that it is wrong to create a kind of north - south divide between urban and rural communities where never the twain shall meet. Surely it is right that if the rural vote affects changes in urban life then urban opinion should be at least listened to in rural communities? These islands are no longer as big as they were 50 years ago, which is another thing that has changed.

  18. Ian,before you criticise me for saying cattle movements are not the problem you need to explain how it can be cattle spread when every animal has to be tested as clear before moving.That has to be explained and no nonsense about farmers ignoring that legal requirement.Nothing of course is foolproof ref mobile phone use while driving etc but farmers do not want to import BTB.Movements are strictly monitored by cattle movement passports.
    This talk about FMD movements while having a semblance of truth is a bit of a red herring.
    In my opinion it is more complicated than that.Farmers definitely had to restock from wherever there were surplus as some areas were completely wiped out,the main factors were the Government had cut down on vets and had not enough people to cope with FMD and carry on with BTB testing and did not want to go on many farms.This factor together with the fact of stopping all Badger culling in 1997 and thus by this time raging out of control is used by people to blame cattle movement for the spread of BTB.
    I have asked dozens of times for those blaming cattle movements for the spread of BTB to explain how when every animal before sale unless for slaughter has to be tested,repeat as no one seems to understand those words.Every animal before sale has to be tested and can obviously only be sold if tested as clear.
    I do hope you can explain as you have told me as I understand that I am wrong.
    For sure I am right that every animal before sale has to be tested.
    Your assumptions are all based on farmers wanting to import BTB in my experience a quite ridiculous idea and when farming we would go to almost any lengths to keep the disease out.
    Fact is the side affects of the disease that on average mean probably you cannot sell any cattle except for slaughter for at a guess the period of one year.This causes massive problems that of course those not cattle farming like lots of things with this disease fail to understand.
    Chris Packham certainly did use vitriol remarks and for sure I heard him so you simply missed it.
    DMD,he definitely did I heard it.

    1. Dennis, I am not sure why the FMD evidence is a red herring and with all respect, this post reads like special pleading to me. Wherever there are barriers and challenges, unscrupulous people will find a way through and no amount of banging your fist on the table and insisting that every animal is/must be/should be tested before it can be moved is going to work. Your point about me trying to build a conspiracy theory is way off mark too, I would never claim that anyone would deliberately wish to import bTB into a new area. However, I can see the very sound logical reason for wanting to get rid of an animal suspected of being infected and risking slaughter of a herd even if I do not agree with the solution.

      However, you are deliberately disguising a few facts in trying to steer the talk away from FMD and one of them is that systematic testing began (or arguably became more rigorously enforced) as a result of the 2000-2001 outbreak. In fact, it was enforced because good evidence was found that one or more unscrupulous farmers tried to unload stock that they knew or suspected was already infected. It does not take a genius to realise that if transferred infection exists for one disease then surely it can be the case of for another, and so it proved with new bTB cases being reported after re-supply in the wake of FMD. Therefore, it is inappropriate to cite the current situation (I would argue that what you are claiming is theoretical anyway and would not hold if there was even one breach of the rules) when we are discussing evidence that has already been widely considered but ignored by the government.

      Dennis, I honestly believe your heart is in the right place and I am sure you are as aware as everyone else is that no system can ever be watertight. Given the (recent) historical evidence I have been talking about here, I think there is nothing more certain than the fact that bTB will break out again even in areas where culling has taken place. I am not a betting man but I really would stake a large amount on this prediction if I was.

  19. DMD,this is the relevant bit from your link which you conveniently ignored.
    The good recovery in Cumbria with its less frequent cattle-testing regime and the worsening situation in Devon with its more frequent testing regime is a good indication that the worsening situation in Devon is not principally due to the cattle-to-cattle transmission element. Given that TB is concentrated in the South West and Wales and spreading outwards from these regions, practical experience does not support the assertion that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone. This interpretation of the scientific findings was given by F J Bourne in his covering letter dated 18 June 2007 when submitting the Final Report4 of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials. The absence of any confirmed case of herd breakdowns for 10 years after the Thornbury trial in Gloucestershire provides no support for F J Bourne's interpretation. One of the reasons why the Thornbury area was chosen for the trial was because it was an area known for relatively high and persistent levels of TB where cattle-based control measures were failing.
    Of course farmers had to restock.This statement says that the worsening situation in Devon is not due to cattle to cattle transmission.
    Using the fact that FMD movements caused the increase in BTB then Cumbria would have the same incidence as Devon.
    LOL your link simply proves my point.

    1. Dennis .
      I didn't ignore it. I quite deliberately chose a link which suggests a crackdown of cattle movement would not be the best answer alone. A link which also talks of the wildlife reservoir.
      It seemed to be the least partisan link I could find.
      I did use the link to show that bTB reactors and different strains spread when cattle movement was relaxed post FMD.
      Thats undeniable and had nothing to do with not culling badgers.
      You've ignored that bit....

  20. Ian,in some instances you are right.You will find I have never denied the fact every community has bad eggs and in some diseases farmers definitely used bad tactics mainly to get animals slaughtered that were not up to scratch rather the reverse of your idea.
    With BTB as far as I can see then saving a animal somehow would be crazy as in 2 or 3 months the whole herd would be retested ad infinitum until that herd tested clean which would never happen if he kept swapping that cow,no we would just have to bite the bullet as unpalatable as it is.
    We actually faced this problem with BSE when we had valuable calf stillin the cow that started with BSE and there is no other option but to take that first loss and hope for the best.
    It is a legal requirement to have animals tested before sale that is fact and although in everything there is risk someone will find a way I would think with cattle passports it is almost impossible plus the fact it is in the buyers interest to make sure the seller has complied.Surely you must agree farmer would be stupid to buy a animal not tested and risk the herd not being able to sell anything except for slaughter for probably a year.
    Yes for certain BTB will break out again where these culls are taking place.
    I believe rather sadly in fact that we are in such a mess that we have no vaccine that is practical to use over all the Badger population plus it does not work on those already infected,the cost seems horrendous over a period of perhaps 10 years.It seems it is not even that effective.
    I cannot see any better way than culling Badgers on the farms tested positive for BTB and culling any cattle with BTB and hopefully getting clear of this disease for both cattle and Badgers,as distasteful as this is the Badger population would soon recover.
    We just cannot let it carry on getting worse like it has in the last 15 years,the cost to Badgers,now probably other wildlife,the risk of it getting to pets and even people,cattle and the emotional upset to owners of cattle is just unacceptable.
    I have no reason to plead it does not and never has affected my family we farmed over a 100 cattle side by side with Badger Sett and would see them when perhaps looking at a calving cow at 2.00 A M in the field turning over dung pats and so busy they would ignore us.Indeed they often came in the garden.
    Just think that people with very little knowledge but well meaning people have read this and that lies about what farmers do and take it on board as gospel.
    In general if we ignore one or two bad eggs they are completely wrong.
    Lets face the fact if farmers were Badger haters there would not be many about.

  21. Further to my thoughts about the economic perspective (August 30, 2013 – 8:16 pm) to Ian Peters above, how about this:

    The poor old Badger apparently causes diary farmers a great deal of hardship simply by unconsciously existing and going about their business. What do we do - shoot ‘em.

    Senior bankers and the conscious practice of making money out of money puts one million young people, many with huge debts from Uni, out of work. What do we do – give ‘em a gold plated pensions atop a huge bonuses and send them on their way to a life of riley.

    Given that the poor old Badger contributes way more to that life support system we call bio-diversity than Fred the Shred, wouldn’t it make more sense (morally and ultimately economically) to subsidise our diary farmers further, keeping them going like everybody else that finds themselves disadvantaged through no fault of their own, until we find a proper solution? As demonstrated in my previous comments it will cost a relative drop in the ocean.

    Failing that how about diversifying into Goats?

    Btw, Martin Harper has now (after 7 days) published my comments on Hen Harriers that cunningly contained a link to the ePetition! If he can do that could he now email the (rSpB) membership to shine the floodlights rather than a wind-up torch?

    1. "how about diversifying into Goats?"

      Nice notion - but existing goat farmers might not agree. Theirs is a "proper" market undistorted by overproduction which they have built up rather well and protected from boom and inevitable bust (Prudence G Broon please note) by restricting the supply of breeding stock.

      There are also issues to which the anti-farming pro-arson lobby might object: unlike the dairy beef sector, billies have a very limited market because of the perceived taint issue and are killed soon after birth as the dam's milk is worth more than the billy is after weaning. They are typically kept fully housed all year for a number of reasons - one of which is that a herd of goats is a weapon of mass hedge destruction.

      1. "Nice notion – but existing goat farmers might not agree"

        Or even those 'enterprising' suppliers of mutton-dressed-as-goat, a popular product in the Lancashire and Yorkshire Pennine fringe.

        1. They wouldn't get away with that in St Pauls. If you don't smell like a goat for a week, it wasn't goat 🙂

  22. Back to the top:

    "And even with the black-and-white beasts, is there genetic variation in susceptibity?"
    No doubt there is - many badgers are free from bTB, allegedly.

    "Has breeding for milk production above everything else been an own goal for the dairy
    The conclusions from this study suggest not: Evidence of genetic resistance of cattle to infection with Mycobacterium bovis. Brotherstone et al; J. Dairy Sci. 93 :1234–1242
    2010 "The genetic correlation between milk yield and the liability of being culled and confirmed with BTB suggests that selection for milk yield has not contributed to the current epidemic and that selection for BTB resistance would not conflict with improving yields of milk. On the contrary, the negative genetic correlation between milk yield and susceptibility to BTB implies that animals that are of high genetic merit for milk yield are less likely to be susceptible to BTB."

  23. There's more:
    Allen et al, Bovine tuberculosis: the genetic basis of host susceptibility. Proc Biol Sci. 2737–2745 (2010) Extracts:

    "Much effort has been directed towards improving diagnostics, finding vaccine candidates and assessing the usefulness of badger culling. The contribution that host genotype makes to disease outcome has, until recently, been overlooked; yet, it is biologically untenable that genetic variation does not play a role."

    "Recent findings have also demonstrated significant heritability to susceptibility to BTB in Holstein cattle in the UK (Brotherstone et al. 2010) and in the Republic of Ireland (Bermingham et al. 2009)"

    "Despite considerable evidence of a genetic component to TB resistance, modest effort has been directed towards identifying bovine genetic susceptibility loci. Indeed, it is only recently that effort has been directed towards quantifying the host genetic influence (Bermingham et al. 2009; Brotherstone et al. 2010)."

    "Research in Simmental cows found evidence of differences in TB prevalence in daughters of two sires, being 4 and 62 per cent, respectively (Ruppert 1935). Similarly, differences in TB prevalence in daughters of different sires were found in black pied lowland cattle (Hutt 1958)."

    "The idea of breeding TB-resistant animals is not new, having been raised before the modern genomics era. In the early years of the twentieth century, efforts were already underway to increase resistance to TB by breeding (Waddington 2004). Indeed, Dutch cattle breeders in the 1940s, convinced that artificial selection for production traits alone was ill-advised, developed the modern Friesian breed as a more robust dairy cow since anecdotal evidence suggested older lineages were more susceptible to disease (Theunissen 2008)."

  24. As a cattle farmer cannot breed from a bovine that tests positive for bTB, but will breed from those cattle that are not infected, surely the process of selective breeding to increase genetic immunity is already, albeit unwittingly, occurring ?

    1. Joe W - up to a point. But farmers may already have bred from cattle that subsequently test positive and the tests are not completely reliable either. And farmers are not swapping breeds.

      1. "But farmers may already have bred from cattle that subsequently test positive"

        Yes of course and this will be more likely in herds where the animals have a greater longevity, e.g extended grazing dairy herds and suckler beef herds in counties on 48-month testing intervals' but less likely when on a 12-month testing interval and in intensive Holstein-Fresian herds where a cow only averages 3 - 3.6 lactations.

        "And farmers are not swapping breeds"
        I'm not sure this is correct these days, although Holstein-Fresian types are still the dominant breeds in the dairy sector, in the last 10 years or so, there has been a marked increase in the practice of cross-breeding with different dairy breeds (Brown Swiss, Jersey, Danish red, Norwegian red, Fleckvieh, Montebelliard) partly in the pursuit of hybrid vigour but perhaps mainly in response to concerns about inbreeding, longevity, hardiness, decreasing reproductive performance and other functional traits associated with pure breeds, particularly inbred Holsteins.

        Visit a farm operating a New Zealand style, low-input and low output, extended grazing system ('Grassland Fundamentalist's' as the farmers are often referred to by their peers) and you are highly unlikely to see a pure bred Holstein or Fresian. These herds consist of a range of cross breeds (from breeds listed above) which are much smaller than your typical Holstein but far hardier, longer-lived and much less expensive to feed.

        I agree about the reliability of the testing.

        1. I've seen Meuse-Rhine-Issel and Irish Moiled on English farms recently.

          OT - Joe W do you know if there's a gene for extreme malevolence affecting affecting Holstein bulls?

          1. Some years ago, after having been forced by an aggressive Holstein bull, to make a sharp and rather undignified exit from a field, I posed this question to a couple of knowledgeable cattle breeders. The answer I was given is that the aggression has more to do with the way young bull calves are reared rather than any genetic trait. Apparently bottle fed bull calves reared in isolated pens are much more prone to aggression, than those reared in larger groups and suckler herds. Something to do with them being more likely to perceive humans as being part of the herd and therefore a rival that needs to be put in its place.
            I suppose this explains why dairy breeds are generally more aggressive than beef breeds.

            This reminds me of an amusing headline I read in the Telegraph earlier in the summer, only the Telegraph (or perhaps the Mail) could have taken this slant.
            I don't know, these foreign cows coming to our country and attacking our ramblers...


    2. And where entire herds are slaughtered, any bTB resistant stock among the susceptible are gone. Miles pointed this out earlier in the post. This makes no sense - the reactor's development of antibodies indicates exposure to the disease. If the disease remains absent in such an individual it is showing a degree of resistance. Age of Stupid strikes again.

  25. See this paper:-

    "These results highlight the potential discrepancy between infection and test status and imply that the effectiveness of the test-and-slaughter policy may be being compromised by selection for cattle that are genetically predisposed to react less strongly to tuberculin."

  26. Conference paper suggesting that genetic analysis of bacteria shows local spread of M bovis is predominant - in Northern Ireland;jsessionid=2846B5CCF48D9EE495C8A53737AD5B86.2?p_p_auth=tirfYvR7


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