Cattle are an integral part of many smallholdings, contributing useful commodities such as meat, milk or breeding animals, along with a plentiful supply of manure and numerous opportunities to meet your neighbours when the cattle have decided the grass is definitely greener on the other side of the fence! Unlike any other farm animal species, however, cattle are subject to routine, statutory disease surveillance – specifically to look for bovine tuberculosis or bTB. Smallholders, therefore, need to be aware of the rules and regulations relating to bTB – regardless of the number of cattle they have.

Philip and Val Blatchford run Emborough Farm, a 16 acre smallholding in Somerset, where they keep five Highland cattle alongside a flock of 90 sheep, four alpacas and an array of poultry. The cattle are from pedigree blood lines and are important breeding stock, as well as much loved family pets, so losing them to TB would be devastating. ‘I heard about the TB Advisory Service through the NFU and also saw the feature on BBC’s Countryfile,’ said Philip, ‘so decided to call to see what advice was available. I wasn’t sure what they could tell me that I didn’t already know, but I just wanted to make sure that I was doing everything I could to limit the risk of TB on my farm.’

The advice visits offered by TBAS are completely free to cattle keepers in the High Risk and Edge Areas of England, and are delivered by experienced farm consultants. ‘Our adviser was very knowledgeable and gave us some great information’ Philip continues. ‘We walked around the farm looking at all aspects of how the cattle are managed, and also spoke about our policy for buying in new animals, which for us, is just the occasional new bull. He identified some issues that I had not considered, and suggested a number of simple, practical things we could do to reduce the risk of our cattle getting TB. A few days later, I received a comprehensive report of the visit including the recommendations that will make the biggest impact on our smallholding’.

The main issues identified at Emborough Farm related to the risks posed by neighbouring cattle, wildlife (including badgers) and the farm’s own alpacas, as camelids are very susceptible to TB. Good biosecurity can help deal with all these risks – double-fencing to prevent nose-to-nose contact with neighbouring cattle, fencing off badger setts and latrines, and making mineral licks, feed and water troughs inaccessible to badgers, for example. The alpacas are kept separately from the cattle, but disinfecting footwear is important as the TB bacteria can be carried in manure.

The TB Advisory Service has been established to help all cattle keepers, including smallholders like Philip and Val, to understand the risks associated with contracting TB and provide simple, practical advice to avoid a breakdown, and on what to do if the worst happens. To find out more, please contact the TB Advisory Service on 01306 779410.