Some of the farmers most badly affected by bovine TB in Pembrokeshire are to take the financial hit of voluntarily removing extra cattle from their herds in a bid to rid their farms of the disease.

A group of 15 farmers are voluntarily taking take part in a new pilot project that will use historic TB skin test data to develop better management protocols to manage ‘near misses’ out of their herd. In a bid to lower their TB rates, the move will mean culling animals over and above those identified as carriers at statutory testing,

The Pembrokeshire Pilot was launched at this month’s Pembrokeshire County Show and will run alongside work conducted by Aberystwyth University and the TB Advisory Service.

It will be similar to strategies that farmers have for managing Johne’s, arming them with a ‘risk list’ for every animal in their herd.

They will make decisions ranging from breeding policy to culling based on data provided by the programme, which is owned by Iechyd Da, a consortium of veterinary practices in South Wales delivering veterinary services such as TB testing, and developed in conjunction with MV Diagnostics.

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Critically, these decisions will be under the farmer’s control in conjunction with their private vet.

In addition, these farms will also be trialling a new enhanced biosecurity app developed by Iechyd Da that will enable farmers to score the impact and risk of the herd management actions they are considering.

Although farmers are compensated by the Welsh Government for cattle that need to be removed as reactors from herds after routine testing, there will be no government payment for these additional animals.

Roger Lewis, who farms at Poyerston Farm, Milton, and who has lost dozens of animals to TB, said farmers were desperate to find a solution and are open to exploring avenues to effectively manage the disease out of their herds.

He was one of the farmers involved in trialling this system, which has been developed by farmers and the veterinary industry over the last two years, before it was rolled out more widely.

He has experienced that financial loss first hand, making the decision to voluntarily remove 12 cattle from his herd earlier this year after they were flagged up as high risk and received no compensation for those.

He said he had done this to minimise his losses and to be in control of his herd and potentially reduce the overall period in which he is under bovine TB restrictions.

“We will never know if those 12 would have become TB reactors because of the current stringent testing regime that prevents this level of research,’’ said Mr Lewis, who was instrumental in the creation of NFU Cymru’s TB Focus Group and now leads as chairman.

But it is a gamble that farmers are willing to take in a county that has one of the highest number of farms with TB herd breakdowns in the whole of the UK.

The 15 farmers involved in the project will get match funding for the work involved in delivering the project on their farms, including regular on-farm engagement with a private vet, to provide advice and veterinary oversight of biosecurity practices.

The ambition of the project is to officially regain TB-free status for those currently under long-term restrictions.

If successful it could be rolled out to other areas of Wales.

Simon Davies, NFU Cymru county chairman in Pembrokeshire, said the union was also putting pressure on the Welsh government to end the on-farm slaughter of in-calf cows and heifers who test positive for TB.

Allowing an unborn calf to slowly die inside the cow after she had been slaughtered was putting an enormous mental strain on farmers, he said.

“Seeing the calf trying to survive inside the womb is absolutely horrible,’’ said Mr Davies.

He wants measures that allow the cow to “calve with dignity’’ before she is removed from the herd.

The government is currently considering the in-calf cow and heifer slaughter guidance it issues for TB eradication.