'You might have been expecting it but it’s still a shocking bad feeling when TB happens to your herd'
Co Monaghan farmers have had a year of turmoil with the scourge of bovine tuberculosis (TB) ravaging the dairy herd in the county.
The annual TB test is one of the most stressful events on a farmer’s calendar. Despite a herd being clear of the disease, the threat of contracting TB, having to cull stock and live with restricted movements is always there.
Border county Monaghan has seen a surge in TB where the rate of the disease is well above the levels experienced in other counties. Earlier this year, the Department of Agriculture confirmed that the reactors per 1,000 tests stands at 5.12 which is almost three times the national average.
Padraic Greenan from Ardaghey in Co Monaghan is one farmer who was locked up with TB having had a clean herd for years. Greenan runs the Greenlea herd of award-winning Holsteins milking approximately 80 at the minute and 106 at the peak in the summer.
“We had BSE in 1997 and again in ’00 so we went to France and bought cows then. France had a softer approach to TB then so we went down about 18 months later but we have been clean ever since then,” Greenan explained to FarmIreland.
However, with the surge of TB incidents in the county in 2017 and 2018, Greenan admitted that he was not looking forward to the TB test this year.
“This year we were definitely nervous. There was a right bit TB among neighbours at the time so it felt like it was an inevitably. We lost six at the first test and then we lost 17 more at blood test.
“You might have been expecting it but it’s still a shocking bad feeling when it happens to you,” he said.
Being locked up with TB came at the peak of the dreadful spring in 2018 where storms, rain and snow left it as one of the most difficult springs in living memory. For Greenan, the costs kept adding up and this, in turn, had a knock-on effect on the mental well-being.
“The spring was a right bad time for us even without the TB,” Greenan explained.
“We were very highly stocked being locked up. The cows, the young stock, everything was in and we were buying silage and feeding the cows up to 15kg per day to keep them in good shape.
“People can say that you can take the pressure but you’d be lying if you said you weren’t affected by it all. It’s hard now.”
By the time the herd was clear, it was well into the summer and Greenan had stock housed until August and September mainly as a result of the long spring and being overstocked.
“We had a big job on our hands keeping grass ahead of the stock during the summer.”
So what has caused the surge in the disease in Monaghan? The root cause differs if you’re a farmer or the Department.
"The rise in the TB incidence in Monaghan is multi-factorial and will require a range of measures to address the issue," the Department of Agriculture stated in a letter to farmers earlier this year.
Greenan thinks the cause is the badger population and urged the Department to take a fresh approach to tackling TB.
“It’s obvious that vaccinating the badgers isn’t working, we need a greater step forward to getting rid of it. Everyone, the farmer, the Department, everyone, needs to be on the same page,” Greenan said.