Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Financially, the recurring TB has destroyed us...I'm not sure we can cope with another case'

How one farmer's herd has been hit with TB 13 times in 20 years

Jillian Godsil

Thirteen years out of twenty has resulted in Paddy Healy’s dairy herd going down with TB. He does't know what he'll do if the herd tests positive again this year.

Paddy bought the 130 acre farm in Loggan, in county Wexford, back in 1997 and leased a further 40 acres. Previously he farmed in Roundwood, in Wicklow, but he never had any TB at his home farm.

He shakes his head is bewilderment. "There is no reason why this should be so," he says. "We don’t know why we keep on testing positive."

He has 90 cows in year round milking although he is thinking of giving up winter milking as it just doesn’t pay. "We shall have to make decision soon," he says. "Unless prices improve it is just not worth our time."

Paddy farms with his wife Margaret and son Sean, while his other two children have since left the farm. He would like to retire but the year round milking is very intensive for one farmer on his own.

One year he lost a bull to TB as well which really floored him. Although the Department values and compensates him for the cattle that test positive it does not cover the loss of earnings though reduced milk output.

The highest number of cattle ever to test positive was 14 which was a significant cull to the herd. "What with milk prices being low and then the milk output reduced by almost a quarter, it had a devastating impact on our finances," says Paddy. "It continues to do so.’

Paddy has had to borrow to keep the farm going. He has reached the point where he cannot borrow any more and more over the repayments are almost impossible to repay out of current earnings.

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"We tend to test in May each year," says Paddy. "When we go down, then the farm is in lock down for 60 days until the first text and a further 42 until the second. That means our milk output is reduced for almost three months. It is very hard to return to profitability after that."

Paddy has no idea why his cattle go down all the time. "In Roundwood we never had TB in 20 years so how come it is so bad here?" he asks. His neighbours are none the wiser either and they do not appear to have suffered as much as the Healys.  

"People say it might be deer or badgers but I don’t know," says Paddy. "The Department cannot tell for sure either."

Wicklow has the highest rate of TB in Ireland, with deer and badgers widely blamed for spreading the disease.

Cost

It costs approximately €4 to test each animal and Paddy uses Vaughans Veterinary Practice in Gorey to do the testing. When the herd goes down the Department pays for the second test but, again, Paddy has to pay for the final test which when clear removes the restrictions from his farm.

"The testing is also not always clean-cut," he says. "Once we had an animal test negative on the farm but positive in the factory. Other times animals with a positive test have arrived at the factory with no lesions showing up in the slaughter." It is the unpredictability that frustrates Paddy.

"Financially the recurring TB has destroyed us," he says. "And that is before you factor in the mental and physical anguish. If I could get out of this I would, but I have no choice and no where to go."

But as to the future, Paddy cannot say – expect that he fully expects to test positive next month if previous years are any guide. "If we can cope anymore is another question altogether," he says.

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