Let’s cut straight to the chase: you’ve just completed a TB test, and one or two animals have tested positive. At the same time, you have become aware of night-time activity a few fields away, and you suspect that high-powered rifles have been used near or around badger setts.
Are you concerned, or are you secretly pleased that something is being done to remove the main source of infection within your cattle herd?
I mention this purely hypothetical situation not to be controversial, or to stir up heated debate, but as a working farmer who is caught up in this tuberculosis fiasco and cannot see a straightforward solution with positive outcomes.
If you simply attend farmer meetings, there is often one clear answer: cull the badgers. On the other hand, if you read any articles in wildlife publications, you would be led to believe that badgers are almost entirely innocent, and stricter animal movement and biosecurity is the simple remedy.
In truth, the whole debate mirrors politics in this crazy country, with two sides refusing to even attempt to meet halfway – a sort of modern-day trench warfare.
Down in test
About this time last year, I had one pregnant heifer that reacted in the test. This was after having no reactors in at least 15 years, so it came as a nasty shock.
Probably the most revealing aspect was my immediate response to this, because I walked the perimeter of every field, looking for fresh badger activity.
My plan (had I found a working sett) was to fence it off in the vague hope that it might reduce the spread of any more infection.
However, there were no setts found, so it was a case of waiting anxiously until I got two clear tests, and then start again this year.
The current batch of in-calf heifers are all clear, so the pressure has eased once again, although the recent test saw anxiety levels in the stratosphere until the last animal ran down the crush.
Other farmers in our immediate area have been less fortunate, with sizeable percentages of their dairy cows being removed.
I have to say that, much as I love all forms of wildlife, I consider badgers to be a huge contributing factor in the whole TB discussion. I readily admit that this is based mostly on anecdotal evidence, but this in turn was arrived at from listening to stories from farmers who I know to be honest, decent people, incapable of stating anything except factual testimony.
In short, where someone has had a bad outbreak of TB, too often there are also high numbers of badgers in the vicinity.
Equally, I have little doubt that some of the more drastic proposals (the ones that farmers are roaring their objection to) would possibly lower the incidences.
I suspect that dropping compensation amounts for reactor animals might result in farmers being more vigilant about fencing cattle out of certain areas, or being slightly more cautious about renting land that was close to a TB hotspot.
However, pushing farmers into a tight corner too quickly could backfire on the protagonists, with some unscrupulous individuals taking the law into their own hands. That point, however unsavoury, must be borne in mind.
Maybe we should try shifting the blame in another direction.
Children’s story books, nursery rhymes, and The Wind in The Willows, have all portrayed dear old Badger Brock as a lovable character, shuffling harmlessly around perfect woodland habitats, with never a word of him leaving a trail of infective spores wherever he roams.
Let’s face it, if you replaced a badger with a rat, would anyone care if every one of them was obliterated from the face of the earth?