Cork farmers have been left reeling following a TB outbreakwhich one affected farmer has described as “absolutely devastating”.

Herd incidence of TB in south Cork has jumped from 4.2% to 6.8% in the last 12 months, and late last year, over two dozen farms between Caheragh and Drimoleague in west Cork were severely impacted by the outbreak.

An intensive TB testing campaign was launched, with the net thrown wide to see which other farmers needed their herds tested.

A concerted effort was made by farmers, vets and Department of Agriculture officials to try and get on top of it. This included testing in the run-up to and during the Christmas period.

The Cork South regional veterinary office (RVO) also held an information meeting for the farmers in the Drimoleague/Caheragh area in January.

At this meeting, farmers were given an overview of current Department strategies locally, tailored biosecurity advice, wildlife information and a summary of how a previous big breakdown in a neighbouring area was handled.

Farmers left the three-hour meeting better informed, according to dairy farmer Declan Cronin from Ballyhadown, Drimoleague.

“We were shown a case study of how outbreaks in Cork like the ones in Nohoval and around the Macroom bypass were dealt with. They were similar to this area, so that was useful.”

Daniel Kingston from Dreeny, Skibbereen, saw his dairy farm hit hard by the outbreak. He lost one third of his milking herd.

“It was all young cows. I had 28 first calvers calved last year and there’s only nine left because of it. The fact it went from zero to an absolutely devastating outbreak in a few months – there’s no certainty now for the next 12 months.”

‘From out of nowhere’

Declan Cronin fared worse. TB saw 45% of his stock classed as reactors between the skin and blood tests.

Calving is underway for the remainder of his dairy herd, but it’s a much quieter yard than he was expecting it to be heading into last autumn.

Declan Cronin, Ballyhadown, Drimoleague, Co Cork.

“Every morning since is different. It’s not that your day has changed, but you’re thinking different every day. You’re wondering, what’s next? You might have a clear test, but that’s not saying it couldn’t come back again at the end of the year. It came from nowhere and that’s the worrying thing.”

Darren Lynch and his father Michael from Lissane, Drimoleague, had a clear herd test at the end of June 2023. Aside from a TB case on an out-farm two decades ago, they’ve had no TB since the early 1970s.

Darren Lynch, Lissane, Drimoleague, Co Cork.

“We were notified at the end of October on the back of a neighbour being restricted, and it was a domino effect from there.

“The first test was the third week of November. We would have been hopeful before it, as we’ve been clear at home for 51 years.

“Eight went down on that test and, as per the guidelines, we had to do bloods. Another 28 went down on the blood test. That’s a common theme across all the farms in the area.

“That started a period of to-ing and fro-ing, trying to sort things out, and it wasn’t until early January that all our last reactors left.”

‘No progress’

Michael Lynch started the Clashduve herd of Friesian cows in 1973 and he has seen TB bookend his farming career. His thoughts have crossed many a farmer’s mind when it comes to the disease.

“In the autumn of 1972, there was an outbreak in the area similar to today. In 50 years, there seems to be no progress made. The same system seems to be in place. The only difference now seems to be the bloods, but I’m not so sure that will sort it.

"Unfortunately, everything else seems to have moved on, but TB and TB testing and the system seems to be the same.”


Doing what was required to move on as fast as they could and get the reactors off farm, the three farmers had their stock valued but hit a stumbling block. They’re in partnerships. As they discovered, there is no online system for a partnership to accept a TB valuation.

The Lynchs received the results from the bloods on a Thursday and were told the pack containing all the forms required was being posted that day.

To speed things up, they organised for a valuer to call the following Monday and their valuations were ready to be accepted that evening; but Darren hit an IT issue that night. The following evening, the information pack arrived.

“I wanted to accept them online, but it didn’t work. I rang the RVO in Clonakilty to see if I could accept online and was told to contact the IT office in Athlone.

“I was put on hold for 10 or 15 minutes and was asked if I was in a company or partnership. I said ‘yes’ and they said, ‘oh we don’t have that system set up at all’.

“Then I was told to get a form from my RVO – so I was sent back to Clonakilty.” At the DVO, Darren met Declan Cronin, who was dropping off the same forms by hand.

Meanwhile, Daniel Kingston chose the postal route the same day. His cattle were collected two weeks later than Darren and Declan’s. The reactors had been on the farm for five weeks at that stage.

“It’s 2024,” said Darren. “In this day and age, there should be an online option available. BISS is online, TAMS is online. Farmers are being forced online, yet they can’t do it themselves.”


The loss of stock to TB can be a sudden shock to the system. Ensuring all financial commitments are met and picking up the pieces to get the business back on track can be equally stressful.

This is especially true of any farmer who has invested in improving facilities, increasing slurry storage or purchasing land.

“Production is impacted and the loss of so many stock puts pressure on repayment capacity – the knock-on impact of it is tough on the financial side and the stress of it,” Darren said.

He knows well. Off-farm, he works as an agricultural adviser with Drinagh Co-op, and he has had plenty of experience dealing with farmers affected by TB over the years.

By default, the co-op milk supply team deals with a lot of farmer questions on TB.

“It often falls back on the co-op to fill in some of the grey areas that aren’t covered or if a farmer can’t get anyone on the other end of the phone.

“I’d often have a farmer say that when they ring the Department, they’re passed from one person to the next.

“They speak to one person today, and the next day the office in Cork will answer and switch to Clonakilty, and they could end up with a new person and end up back to square one,” he said.

The sentiment shared by many farmers is that there’s a disconnect and absence of empathy in some areas of the TB eradication programme.

The exception being that some of the vets and officials on the ground understand what a farmer is going through, but the existing system overshadows the good work that is being done.

Getting the farm back to the same level of production as before a TB outbreak is a priority for a lot of farmers, but it can be a slow process.

Back on track

All three farmers are taking a different approach to getting the farm back to their pre-TB levels.

In Daniel Kingston’s case, he’ll stay at the levels he’s been reduced to since the negative tests in November.

Daniel Kingston, Dreeny, Skibbereen, Co Cork.

“I’m taking the hit for this year, because I have a good few yearling heifers. I’ll hold onto them and try to get out of this mess fully first. You could buy in problems too.”

Declan Cronin has decided to take a ‘wait and see’ approach for now: “We could buy in, subject to conditions, but I’ll probably hold off on any decision until the next test. We don’t know what’s ahead of us.”

The Lynch family chose to restock sooner and this required putting a risk mitigation strategy in place.

There is a standard template for the risk mitigation plan that enables a farmer to purchase in stock and get back into production.

This is subject to conditions agreed with by the RVO. It is also farm and situation specific.

They cleaned and disinfected the farmyard and filled out the risk mitigation forms, but due to the severity of the outbreak, extra measures were required before they could buy in stock. Finding stock comparable to what they lost isn’t easy.

“We were looking to buy in, but it’s impossible to find the stock to replace what you lost. Nobody is going to sell their best. We lost cows that were doing 750kg of milk solids and some were in-calf to sexed semen. There’s no value put on those calves that were lost,” Darren said.

Department response

The Irish Farmers Journal asked the Department what advice is being provided to farmers in the area as a result of the breakdown.

“As a result of increased TB levels in the general Caheragh and Drimoleague area in west Cork, the Department has implemented an enhanced TB testing programme and an enhanced wildlife programme in the area,” a spokesperson said.

The Cork South RVO has written to all herd owners in the affected area, giving general advice on TB biosecurity.

“Epidemiological investigations are continuing to determine the cause of this increased TB incidence, and these investigations are revolving around the roles of wildlife, contiguous spread, cattle movements and residual infection.

"It is likely that all these factors are playing a role in the increased incidence, and their relative importance may vary from herd to herd.

“Gamma interferon (blood) testing has yielded further reactors, many of which have shown to have TB lesions,” they added.

The spokesperson said that all farmers have been very co-operative with the additional TB testing deployed and the RVO extended its sincere thanks to the farmers and testing veterinary practitioners in the area for their efforts.