By Debbie James

A Ceredigion dairy farmer has spoken of the “devastating’’ impact bovine TB is having on his business.

Keith Pugh has experienced sporadic herd breakdowns at Gwndwm near Llandysul since 2004;

He would lose three or four cattle at each test failure before the herd tested clear again.

That changed last year, once the herd had been under TB restrictions for 18 months and enhanced control measures were applied.

These measures, introduced in October 2017 when the refreshed bovine TB eradication programme was launched, result in inconclusive reactors (IRs) in herds with persistent breakdowns being removed and culled.

Since May 2019, Mr Pugh has lost 51 cattle in two tests, 60 days apart.

“It has been devastating, it is absolutely crippling us,’’ admits Mr Pugh, who farms with his father, Graham.

“I make no apologies for admitting that I cried when the vet was tagging those animals.’’

Under a standard test, Mr Pugh says he would only have lost one of the 21 animals culled in May.

“The government suggests that 40 per cent of the others would in future have been reactors so by its own admission 60 per cent wouldn’t have so 12 of the cows I lost in that test would not have gone on to contract TB,’’ says Mr Pugh.

"Our herd isn’t pedigree but my father began breeding over 50 years ago and it upsets me greatly that I cannot protect the herd from this flawed Welsh Government policy.’’

In published studies, IRs have been identified as a risk; in an unpublished analysis of long-term persistent herd breakdowns in Wales, IRs at severe or standard interpretation were found to be three to three-and-a-half times more likely than clear-testing animals to become reactors at subsequent testing.

Alan Huxtable, veterinary lead Wales at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) Wales, has suggested that leaving infected animals in a herd may lead to the disease persisting “for years’’.

But Mr Pugh disputes the government’s approach to eradication, which is heavily weighted towards cattle controls.

He has a very large population of badgers on his farm but, despite a pledge by the government to roll out wildlife controls on farms with chronic herd breakdowns, that has not happened on his farm.

“We are convinced that TB infection in wildlife is having an impact on our herd but we are not considered a priority,’’ says Mr Pugh.

He insists he has done all he possibly can to remove bovine TB from the farm – running a closed herd by using sexed semen to breed replacements and having double fencing between him and neighbouring farms.

“We have showed people from the Welsh Government all our badger setts, there is plenty of evidence of badger activity, and we have been promised that we will be pushed up the priority list but as far as I am aware they have only trapped and tested badgers on a handful of farms.’’

Mr Pugh’s all-year-round calving Friesian herd is run in a housed robotic milking system.

Two milking robots were installed in 2012, when Mr Pugh was milking 120 cows. He now has 78 milkers.

“We are milking 65 at the moment, we could potentially shut down one of the robots because it is costing us money to keep it running but I would be concerned about the problems we might get when we needed to start it up again,’’ he says.

“I don’t call the money we get for the cows we lose ‘compensation’; the government is compulsory purchasing animals that it considers a TB risk but this is destroying our business.

“It removes our ability to produce milk from those animals and there is no financial acknowledgement of that.’’