Gatcombe farm suffers the cruel blow we all knew was coming. Robert Reid and his family today received the heartbreaking news that 13 of their prized cattle had failed the reactor skin test and will have to be destroyed. It’s a crippling setback to the model farm in South Devon which over the last few years has led the way in innovative strategies, successfully eliminating the scourge of bovine TB, without killing a single wild animal.
But this distressing news was completely expected. It was only a matter of time. The Gatcombe method, which returned the farm to an official TB-free status over just three years, is based on identifying and cutting off routes of infection within the herd. But an essential part of the strategy is ‘enhanced testing’ – using methods much more sensitive than the notorious skin test.
With a crushing irony, once the farm was declared free of TB, Government regulations forbade the continuation of the enhanced testing. So the strategy essentially was stopped in its tracks. It was only a matter of time before the infection found its way back into the herd. Dick Sibley, the highly experienced Vet in charge of operations, believes that resumed testing will confirm that the infection re-entered undetected via new young animals added to the herd, and then spread to the adult animals. Why was the bTB organism not detected ? Because it was in the ‘latent’ phase in the juveniles, thus creeping under the radar of the skin test. Robert was simply unable to apply the superior testing methods he had been using, because he would have been breaking the law under current regulations.
Of course, proponents of the continuation of the currently failing regime of skin testing and culling badgers will be able to seize upon this tragedy as an opportunity to blame it on the fact that Robert has not been killing the badgers on his farm. But all the evidence we gathered during this period has pointed to the fact that although the badgers have been infected with the disease through the medium of slurry, they are not the vector of re-infection of the cattle. Re-infection occurs within the herd, if strict hygiene arrangements are not observed.
Now that the herd no longer has TB-free status, enhanced testing can be started again, and Mr Sibley will go about determining exactly what happened. Anne Brummer and myself have been involved in this project all along, the arrangement being that Dick deals with the cattle, and we deal with the badgers. But one of the most startling discoveries was made when we were unable to vaccinate the badgers due to shortage of the vaccine, and we knew that the badgers were infected, and yet the herd of cattle was still able to be declared free of infection.
Dick Sibley said.
“THIS SETBACK WAS FULLY EXPECTED AND ESSENTIALLY INEVITABLE. We are not regarding it as a reason to change our strategy. We fully believe that in the fullness of time the Gatcombe Protocol will be vindicated, and eventually adopted throughout Britain, as the ONLY way of eradicating bovine TB. But we desperately need the Government to change those regulations which apply to enhanced testing.”
For those interested in the details of the Gatcombe project, please get in touch with us at SAVE ME, and we will send you a copy of the pamphlet which I wrote and published just before lockdown. It’s called “The Journey and Insights of Gatcombe Farm”.