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Reducing the risks of cattle getting TB

Advice on farming practices which reduce the risk of cattle contracting TB is based on circumstantial evidence, is sometimes contradictory, but is often the result of real experience.

In the main, farming advice is directed at keeping badgers and cattle apart. This does not mean that there is a link between badgers, cattle and TB. All it means is that if it does turn out that there is such a link, these are common-sense steps to take.

Of course, if there is no link between badgers, cattle and TB, some or all of these steps may be wasteful.

At the end of the day, it is up to each farmer to manage his own farm.

  • With tight strip grazing, as the electric fence moves forward, badgers are tempted to explore the newly grazed short-cropped grass. The worn area near the fence gives easy access to earthworms which make up a major portion of the badger's diet.
  • Maize can be a key food source for badgers in late autumn when other food sources are drying up. In particular, it helps to sustain badger cubs through their first winter.
  • Use sound fencing to stop nose-to-nose contact with other cattle and place barriers in gateways to stop contact with cattle on the other side.
  • Electric fences can be effective in keeping badgers out of cattle areas but keep grass trimmed underneath the fence so that it does not short out.
  • Avoid common grazing if you can. Otherwise arrange for synchronized testing for all cattle on the area.
  • Consider moving to a closed herd system, breed your own replacements.
  • If cattle are bought in, isolate them and consider a private TB test.
  • Keep winter housing well-ventilated and dry.
  • Tell your neighbours if you have a TB breakdown.
  • Periods of stress may aggravate outbreaks e.g. at maximum lactation, bulling, testing, poor husbandry.

This advice was given in 1999, and remains subject to change, based on the results of scientific tests and new knowledge. For up-to-date guidance contact DEFRA.

Some commentators have suggested that organically-raised cattle have an exceptionally low incidence of TB infections. Very little research has proven this to be the case in the UK, but there is some evidence that organic cattle in countries where TB is endemic appear to have a high resistance towards the disease. This, and the possibility of getting higher prices for stock sales, should be a factor to consider if you were considering going 100% organic or moving towards more organic methods.

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