Jennifer Hall discovers that dealing with the effects of bovine TB on farmers is very different from learning about the disease at vet school.
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I am settled into my job at St David's Farm Practice and I have got as close to a routine as is possible in a veterinary job. I've seen some interesting cases over the past month, including a cow with choke (the result of getting into an orchard), a goat with urolithiasis, a calf with a torn eyelid, as well as a few calvings. I also got to replace a prolapsed uterus the other night while on call.
Having completed my OV course a couple of weeks ago, a significant part of my job is now TB testing – working in the south-west there is no avoiding it. As a student, I witnessed many TB tests, went to debates on TB and badgers, learned about the disease, and I heard more about it through the BVA in my role as AVS president. Performing TB tests as a vet in practice, however, has given me a completely different insight into the disease and its effect on the farming world. I'm not one to sit on the fence about these things and, at the risk of controversy, I post my opinions here.
There is no doubt that in the south- west, TB testing plays a major part in the veterinary role, and is almost an accepted status on farms. But I hadn't appreciated what a terrible feeling it is to condemn a farm with TB, particularly a beef farm, which relies on selling store cattle to make a profit. All the parishes here are on yearly testing, but most farms I come across are on 60-day testing, and have been for as long as they can remember. They have the occasional TB-free test, but you could put money on the chances of the next test being positive. It's crippling. A dairy farm I visited the other day was reeling from the shock that half of its replacement heifers, which had all been in a field together, were reactors. This is a major loss to a farm trying to maintain its closed herd status.
The conclusion that I have come to is that as vets it is our responsibility to educate and help farmers, countryside organisations and others involved in the issues surrounding TB. We need to make sure that tests are being conducted correctly and efficiently to minimise the stress on farmers and to give the industry faith in our abilities. We need to work to support all eradication policies and, in my view, that is all aspects of bovine TB control: skin tests, postmortem examinations, culturing, badger culling, badger vaccination – whatever it takes. We have a responsibility to our agricultural industry.
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