Mud, clouds and the Minister - Veterinary Practice
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Mud, clouds and the Minister

THE Farming Minister, Owen
Paterson – more correctly titled
as Secretary of State at DEFRA
– arrived for breakfast with The
Country Landowners Association
on the first day of the Devon
County Show, held near Exeter in
the latter part of May.

It is unlikely that he had to
negotiate the soggy car parks after
the downpours.
At this stage
some vehicles
were being towed
across the grass
by tractors,
particularly the
vans with poor
traction. More rain
followed overnight, accidents between
cars and pedestrians ensued and the
show was cancelled.

This was the rst time that
cancellation has occurred in 119 years
but it came as the event celebrated 25
years at the present site at Westpoint.
A celebrity chef baked a cake in
honour of the occasion and the mix of
chocolate and peanut butter gave the
celebration a distinctive flavour.

The Minister was unperturbed by the
weather and there was no indication of
the troubles to come. The press were
asked not to report anything he said on the day because of the European
elections taking place. This may have
meant that journalists spent more time
contemplating the official words rather
than rushing off copy for instant

The two main topics were flooding
and bovine TB. The local MP was
hovering in attendance and as he
lives on the Somerset levels there was
considerable local interest. The blame
game is in operation and the county
council is considered to be too slow
in progressing dredging and other

Later, over lunch, the Minister held
talks with the NFU. The president,
Meurig Raymond, hosted the gathering
and afterwards a few important points
were clarified concerning TB. The
president believes that an overall
reduction in badgers will lead to a
reduction in TB.

He also expects that PCR
(polymerase chain reaction) technology
will be developed within 18 months to enable “infected setts” to be identified.
Both of these views may have given the Minister cause for concern. One of
his predecessors, Jim Paice, announced
the PCR approach – at the same
show in 2010. The idea of putting a
probe into badger dung and getting a
green or red light was promoted, and
summarised afterwards by scientists
working in the eld as “pure fantasy”.

Even if the diagnostic technology
has now been advanced, the
interpretation in the eld is expected to
be a huge difficulty. However, bTB-
PCR has a strong element of political
considerations that may override the

The forthcoming judicial review is
blamed for no badger control activity
in Devon. This conveniently takes
no further action beyond the general
election. The local press interpreted the
information received and commented
that Devon farmers are doomed to
suffer bovine TB for the next 25 years.
Comments from farmers who took
part in the meetings were on the lines
of it being time for a rethink.

Individual farm assessments are
clearly of interest to the Minister
and he highlighted the “incredible
situation” of one farm having badgers
living in the yard next to the cows. It
was pointed out that the farmer has
not had any reactors from his cows but
from young-stock located elsewhere.

Whether the Minister and the
president now understand that not all
badger communities are a problem
with regard to bTB has not been
clarified. It would certainly be a step
forward if these influential individuals
accepted that healthy badger groups
deter unhealthy badgers and account
for TB-free areas in Devon.

Cattle breed returns

The show is returning to a more
agricultural base and the livestock
involvement has increased. Back were
the Murray Greys with a display section

promoting the yearbook
and the breed. The traits
being highlighted were easy
calving, excellent carcase
quality, docile temperament,
naturally polled, milkiness,
economical feeding, finished off grass, a high
dressing-out percentage,
good liveweight gain and longevity.

Originating from Australia
as a cross between Aberdeen Angus
and Shorthorn, the grey progeny threw
grey calves; the Greys are then crossed
to provide a pro table beef animal.

The point was made that a pro table
suckler enterprise is not so much
influenced by the value of each calf
sold but by the number of calves sold
less the cost of maintaining the cow
herd. With current beef animal returns
at a low ebb, many farmers are looking
to change their system or get out of

A cloud of llamas

One alternative was being shown for
the first time anywhere in Europe. A
farmer from Cornwall has developed
Llama Lland where people take llamas
for a walk and have a cream tea. The
visitor can experience being in a cloud
of llamas.

One of the big differences between
llamas and alpacas is that llamas are
inquisitive and come towards other
animals and people. This has led to
the belief that llamas deter foxes and so llamas have been mixed with
sheep, particularly at lambing time.

In conversation, it emerged that the
llamas do not attack the foxes: they
simply move towards an animal as
soon as it enters the eld. The cloud
approaching is enough to encourage
the fox to leave and farm dogs are seen
to be unwilling to face down a cloud.

A new development is the
importation of mini llamas from
America. These have all the llama
characteristics but are only half the
size of the original. Unlike sheep, the
llamas do not suffer from foot rot,
parasite and teeth problems. They live
out all year round, crop leaves from
hedges and are said to clear gorse by
nibbling the shoots.

Mini llamas are promoted as a pet
but one snag is that they are sociable
animals and so they need to be
purchased as a cloud of at least three
to four animals. The cost would be
several thousand pounds.

Tractor rebuilt for charity

During the show the total rebuild of a
1962 Massey Ferguson tractor (Gretel)
was carried out by engineering students
from Bicton College. Replacement
parts were donated and the restored
vehicle is to be raf ed in aid of training
for mature students from Uganda,
Kenya and Tanzania, supported by the
British Overseas Agricultural Trust.

The tractor was imported from
Germany as a typical hard-worked,
rusty, yard workhorse in desperate need
of care and attention, internally and
externally. Despite the cancellation of
the last day of the show, the work was completed and Gretel will be driven to
other shows throughout the summer.
Raf e tickets are available online via

Owls in the box

This year has seen the first occupation
of the owl box and it was of interest
to talk to the people manning the stand
on behalf of the Barn Owl Trust. The
biggest threat to barn owls is said to be
starvation and in some local areas the
numbers breeding this year have fallen.

Tawny owls are doing exceptionally
well and they have bred several weeks
earlier than expected in the south-
west. There is a cautionary tale of the photographer who took a similar
picture but lost an eye when the adult
attacked. With owls it seems important
to be able to interpret beak clacking.

The young owls will soon be driven
off by the adults who will strongly
defend their territory.

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