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Tuesday 24 April 2018

'Worst outbreak in living memory' - Cattle herds locked up as TB outbreak hits peninsula

Stock Image: PA
Stock Image: PA

Margaret Donnelly and Louise Hogan

At least 45 cattle herds have been locked up following numerous positive tests for tuberculosis.

Farmers on the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry say it is the worst outbreak in living memory. In 2017, there were 75 herds restricted in the peninsula, with a further 36 restricted because of issues on neighbouring farms.

Patrick O'Driscoll, chairman of the Irish Farmers Association South Kerry branch, called a meeting yesterday as the scale of the outbreak became clear.

Mr O'Driscoll, who lives on Valentia Island, said that more than 100 farmers had attended the meeting and were looking for a vaccination programme to be rolled out in the area.

He said: "We're not used to TB down in the peninsula, you'd have the odd reactor, but in 2016 we saw increased numbers and in 2017 there were over 302 reactors in 45 herds.

"We're expecting to find more, it's a moving figure."

Mr O'Driscoll said the area affected is approximately a 56-square-kilometre block from Kells to Caherdaniel, where many farms are fragmented. This means farmers have to frequently move cattle, which can lead to TB spreading between herds. Farmers are being advised to work with the Department of Agriculture and Food (DFA) officials by looking for badger setts on their land but to not disturb them, as the department will inspect for badger activity.

He also said that the group was hoping a new vaccination programme for badgers could be brought into the area.

In the past 10 years, the area has seen an explosion of deer, but the department has ruled them out on this occasion.

Mr O'Driscoll said that by reducing the badger population, the cycle of infection could be broken.

"We are hoping that the department will carry out a trial of badger vaccination against TB in the area. Farmers want the vaccination programme.

"There has always been a badger population in the area and we want a healthy badger population."

Local councillors, he said, have made a commitment to secure the vaccination programme for the area.

He also said it was a very stressful time for farmers in the area, with 45 herds locked up, and he said that farmers affected by the outbreak had spoken with emotion at the meeting.

The DFA pointed out there was a high badger population in the area and a programme was under way to capture and test the animals.

"Where badgers are identified as the source, a survey is carried out and the badgers captured and removed," said a department statement.

A spokesman said they were aware that this was a stressful time for farmers in the area and they were working with them and local vets.

Earlier this week, it was announced that vaccination of badgers would begin as an integral part of the bovine TB eradication programme.

The DFA said vaccination would commence in the areas which had already been part of the field trials which had demonstrated the effectiveness of badger vaccination, and it would be rolled out over time in other areas.


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