22 Aug 2019

Farming and Wildlife in July 2019

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

THE ESTATE FARM: As described in May 2019, the Botanic Garden covers about 568 acres, of which farmland is 316 acres including 100 acres of woodland. There are 18 pedigree Welsh Black beef cows all of which have calved so far and 6 yearling steers, four 2-year olds and some cull cows that were sold to Ludlow Mart in May. The 35 Balwen ewes have finished lambing with no problems. Four ‘weaner’ pigs were bought a while back and these went for slaughter on 24 July so; maybe you were one of the lucky Members or staff who bought a ‘quarter-pig’, eh!

The first cut of silage on The Farm has already been taken with good yields of about 10 bales per acre – you can see these black plastic covered bales in some of the fields! There’s 8 acres of ‘arable silage’ this year in Cae Gors that was direct drilled into this grassland field after the silage crop was taken. This means that it didn’t have to be ploughed and harrowed before the sowing of the seed; both of which are expensive operations that Huw The FARM has managed to do without this year. So Huw has saved money and hopes that the end result – that’s the yield of arable silage when harvested in the Autumn and its quality – will be as good or better than if the field had been ploughed and harrowed instead of being direct drilled. As Huw says, “we’ll see on that one!”

And that’s the way that it is with farmers, and probably with most other businessmen – don’t forget that farming is a business as well!

THE WAY OF THE WORLD seems to be moving us ever closer together, doesn’t it? Not just the globalisation that we see all around us from the invasions of plant and animal diseases, or our vegetables from far away including Early Potatoes from Israel and apples from Ecuador and South Africa. Meat and livestock products as well of course; Lamb and Butter has been a coming from New Zealand since 1882 and beef from the Republic of Ireland, which – by the way – is home to more cattle than people (population of 4.8 million – worldpopulationreview)!

The world we live in seems to have become faster, busier, less forgiving of mistakes and with the instant access to information from the other side of the world that enables us to predict the future implications for us and to make decisions to mitigate their effect or to take advantage of the opportunities created.   It’s a bit like The Butterfly Effect which recognises the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in Canada. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right moment in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. It’s all part of Chaos Theory and merely indicative of how a small change of something somewhere – the butterfly flapping its wings in Canada – can result in large differences somewhere else at a later time – the hurricane in China.

It’s horribly complicated but perhaps can be illustrated by a simple case in UK with the decision by the BBC to withdraw free TV licences for the over-75s unless they are claiming a benefit called Pension Credit on the UK Benefits system. But many pensioners who are eligible for this Pension Credit don’t bother to claim it or don’t know about it anyway. But the result of them having now to pay for their own TV Licence – rather than get it free – has led to a huge and unexpected increase in applications for this benefit. Mind you, on thinking about it, rather than being an example of ‘The Butterfly Effect’ this TV licence business could actually be just ‘The Law of Unintended Consequences’, couldn’t it?

STRESSES AND STRAINS? Anyway, the way that the world we live in works has meant that there is an apparent major rise in people identified as ‘being under stress’, ‘stressed out’ and ‘suffering from depression and despair’. Scarcely a day goes by without a Radio or TV News programme ‘revealing’ the results of some survey that shows how a substantial portion of children, factory workers, office workers, pop stars and ‘other celebrities’, solicitors and pensioners all suffer from stress and have considered suicide. It’s pretty depressing just reading the figures, but being affected in that way must be heart breaking too, mustn’t it?

So it must be much better to live in the countryside, live off the land and spend one’s life in tune with the seasons, mustn’t it? Well YES in some ways but NO in others. The Yes is that most people who earn their living in the countryside prefer to work there rather than in a town or city office, but the No is when farmers try to earn their living but are never sure what they will be earning from the sales that they make. What does he mean, you say?

Well, let’s talk about those farmers that earn most of their income from livestock farming rather than the arable crop farmers. The sheep and beef cattle farmer that has ewes lambing down in February and with cows calving in March, will actually have no idea what those lambs will sell for 5-6 months later at market, let-alone the price they will get for that calf 2 years later when it is a full-grown beef steer. OK so there will be a general idea but prices for lamb and beef vary year-on-year by 20% or so and it is this market volatility – caused by market trends, variation in exchange rates and the strength of the pound, that can cause a lot of uncertainty and worry. Apparently and according to our butcher today, the reason that beef prices at the Farmgate in UK are currently very low is that beef carcases are being imported from Poland into The Republic of Ireland and hence across the open border into Northern Ireland where it is cut and packaged with a label that reads ‘Packaged in UK’. If this butcher’s story is true then although the label is correct, the reality is that this was imported beef produced in a low-cost system in Poland, in unknown conditions, and sold to UK consumers under a misleading label that might suggest that the beef was produced in UK as well as being packaged here! This labelling by The Supermarket can be very confusing, can’t it?

The UK market price for ‘finished’[1] livestock has always varied throughout the year; for example lamb prices seem to peak about Easter time and drop right off in August and September when apparently no-one wants to eat mutton or lamb! Since July 2017, the price for lamb has varied from a low of £3.85 per kg deadweight in September 2017 and 2018 to a high of £6.20 per kg in early April 2018, although the peak in 2019 was in May and only £5.05 per kg. Finished Beef follows similar trends but normally peaks in mid-Summer as it did in 2018 at £3.86 per kg deadweight, but in July 2019 was only £3.38 per kg. These may not sound huge differences but for a typical Lamb at 30 kg deadweight it amounts to [£6.20–3.85] x 30 = £70.50 per lamb; and for a beef animal at 350 kg deadweight it’s [£3.86-3.38] x 350 = £168 per beef animal.

OK you ask, if the prices are low then:

‘Why on earth doesn’t the farmer just not sell now, but keep the animals on the farm until prices improve’?

The problem is that when the animal is finished it is ready to sell and to delay more than a few days is likely to result in the animals still eating away but putting on fat rather than meat muscle. And it won’t be the fat inside the meat called ‘marbling’ that adds to the flavour, but the thick fat just underneath the skin that consumers don’t like any more and which lowers the quality of the carcase and the price that will be paid for it – even if it weighs more! So it’s a sort of juggling act that the farmer has to play isn’t it!

THE PHYSICAL SIDE. Farming is now one of the very few remaining ‘manual industries’. Heavy industry and mining have declined and, if Welsh Assembly Government decisions in the future and their following action is not right then farming will go the same way. But manual you say? Well yes, because even though fertiliser doesn’t now come very often in 1 cwt bags [112lbs or 50 kg] that have to be loaded manually into the ‘fertiliser spreader’, or cereal grain in those sacks made of Jute that had to be lifted and carried on the backs of farmworkers, there’s still plenty of lifting going on down on the farm!

Traditionally, the weight of these jute bags when full and sewn at the top, varied with the crop that it contained. Whatever the crop, the sack would be full but the weight would vary because the density of each crop varies.

Crops would almost always be measured in units of volume[2] – like a bushel – rather than by weight!

So-called ‘three-bushel sacks’ when filled to the top with wheat grain weighed 180lbs [80kg]; with barley weighing 150lbs [68kg] while with oats the bag weighed 120lbs [54kg]. Mind you, a bushel of fresh apples weighed in at only 48lbs [22kgs] but a bushel of dried apples at 25lbs [11kg] and a bushel of apple seed at 40lbs [18kg]. Superphosphate fertiliser, used from the 1880s, also came in bags which weighed 187 pounds [85kg]. All these bags were handled manually until the end of the World War II. Not an easy life being a farm labourer then, was it!

But even now – in the most automated systems of both arable and livestock farming – trailers still have to be loaded and unloaded by hand with Fencing Stakes, reels of Barbed Wire and there’s always those 20 – 25kg bags of lamb feed to be ‘lugged’ from the back of the car without the use of the trolley that has wheels too small to ride over the rough track to the lambing sheds!

AND THERE’S OTHER CHANGES TOO! Probably you’ve all been to one of those Agricultural Shows where there are rows of immaculately preserved machinery on display. You’ll also see this old-fashioned machinery at Farm Sales where the retiring farmer has no offspring ‘foolish enough’ to want to carry on farming on his father’s 45 acres of sloping grassland!  There’ll be Hand-Ploughs of course – the sort that is/was pulled behind horses or even oxen in the still older times – and Threshers and Binders for harvesting and threshing the Wheat and Barley crops. Until recently of course – recently in this case being until the 1970s – almost all farms had at least one or two fields of cereals that they would cultivate and harvest themselves for use as livestock food on the farm itself. The days of just ringing up a local feed merchant and ordering for next day delivery by lorry had not yet come about!

Then of course at the Shows and Sales, there’ll be those Spring-tine Harrows and Spring-toothed Weeders some of which would have been trailed behind the tractor and some mounted on the tractor’s 3-point hydraulic linkage. Also Potato Lifters for harvesting Potatoes from the ridges in which they had been grown, and maybe even a Root Harvester for separating fully grown Mangels [aka Mangolds] and Swedes from the soil before taking them inside to a Root Cutter for ‘chopping them up’ and offering them as food to cattle and sheep. And, because Cattle and Sheep cannot digest well the harvested grain grown on the farm in its natural state – and it merely passes through the rumen and is defaecated almost exactly as it was swallowed in the first place, the grain has to be ‘kibbled, crushed or rolled’ before being fed. So most farms had their own Hammer or Crushing Mill with a heavy pair of stones or metal rollers between which the grain was fed by gravity from a ‘hopper’ above the rollers. It was all work then wasn’t it! Today’s generation tends to look back on ‘life in the old days’ with ‘rose-tinted glasses’ but the work then was hard, relentless, long and routine.

BUT WHY ARE THESE MACHINES NOT USED ANY MORE except on show farms or a few farms with much older farmers than normal, who just don’t like to change from the methods and systems that they grew up with? Firstly, FARM LABOUR or the lack of it; because several national events contributed to a huge reduction in the farm labour force: first, the Industrialisation of the 1850s when factories were started with a demand in the manufacturing towns for labour that was being paid better than were farm workers; then the First World War [WW1] of 1914-1918.

In 2014, the National Farmers Union marked the centenary of the start of WW1 by commissioning a Report which investigated the impact that this so-called ‘Great War’ had on British farming families[3]. British farmers played a crucial role in producing food for the nation as German U-Boats or submarines cut off trade routes and the importation of cereals in particular. The UK Government turned to British farmers to feed the nation during this time of crisis.

MEN, WOMEN AND HORSES IN WW1. Pre-1914 farming had been incredibly labour intensive and required a number of skilled labourers to perform the tasks that one worker can do now. The horse was still the main source of farm power in the early 20th century. The majority of equipment used on farm during the war was developed during the 19th century and was horse-drawn or hand-held. Historian P. E. Dewey estimated that in 1913, there were more than one million horses working on UK farms. But, when war commenced in 1914, the British Army possessed only 25,000 horses to pull artillery guns and other heavy equipment around the wet areas of France and Belgium. The War Office needed to source more horses and they began to requisition another half a million to go to the front line. And where did these work horses come from? The farms of course!

Nearly 9 million men fought in the British Army during WW1. More than 170,000 male farm workers – and that’s almost a third of the total working on the land – had gone to war along with mechanics and blacksmiths. And of the 1 million farm work horses, about 500,000 were requisitioned by the War Office to help at the front line, machinery was limited, and fertilisers and feed were in short supply. Faced by a lack of labour, farms adapted the way they worked to meet the food production challenge.

A total of 98,000 women from The Women’s Land Army worked on farms to fill the void left by men. A further 66,000 soldiers returned from the frontline to help with the harvest. And, crucially, tractors began to do the work of many hands. In 1917, the Government bought 400 British Saunderson Tractors and a further $3.2 million was invested in US models such as the Fordson.

And by 1918, there were 6,000 tractors in operation in Britain. The ‘Ploughing Up’ campaign of 1917 saw an extra 2.5 million acres of land used to grow cereals and this was mainly 2.5 million acres of permanent grassland – much of it flower-rich like that on The Farm at the Botanical Garden. But the nation had to be fed during the time of war when – because of enemy naval activity – food materials were very difficult to import.

So by the end of the war, an extra 915,000 tonnes of oats, 1.7 million tonnes of potatoes and 830,000 tonnes of wheat were grown more each year than before the war. And thanks to the work of British farmers and growers, the country avoided being starved into submission. Read about those farming years during World War I and II and how ‘Jimmy Hazard’ served in the trenches and farmed Thickthorns in the novel ‘Shameful Harvest’; written in 1952 by the novelist and Wiltshire farmer A.G.Street.

BUT WHAT’S THIS GOT TO DO WITH FARMING NOW IN 2019? Well, the Farm Safety Week that ran from 15-19 July was organised by the Farm Safety Foundation together with many participating farming organisations including the National Farmers Union, Country Landowners Association and Tenant Farmers Association. Why on earth do these farmers need something like that, you ask? According to the latest statistics, agriculture – and that’s farming, you know – remains the UK’s most dangerous occupation with a fatality rate 18 times higher than the UK’s all-industry average. The Health and Safety Executive says that 32 people were killed on British farms last year and that’s almost one-quarter of all 147 of the UK’s workplace fatalities – despite farming employing far fewer people than any other industry.

Of those fatalities, about 25% were to farmers or workers aged 60 years or over, even though such older workers make up only about 10% of the workforce. Hmm, 60-year olds still working on the land, you say? Well, the average age of farmers in UK is 59 years, so there are plenty of farmers well into their 60s! But how are these accidents caused, you ask? The three most common causes of fatal injuries are: workers falling from heights; and being struck either by a moving object or by a vehicle. So farm Health and Safety campaigns – and there are many – tend to focus on four different aspects of farm safety: general working methods; machinery and transport; working with livestock; and preventing falls from height.

But unfortunately, it’s not just unintended accidents. The farming industry now has the highest proportion of suicides than any other sector. Apparently there are many reasons for someone taking their own life, but a major factor would appear to be such a ‘build-up’ of stress and despair in an untenable situation, that suicide would seem to be the only viable solution.

Are these high levels of stress, suicide and accidents a new development over recent years? Well accidents have always happened on farms – even when there were so many more farm labourers working by hand. In the past, accidents tended to peak during the Summer at the time of hay making and at cereal harvest. Mind you, this was also the peak time of in-work day-time drinking – usually of cider – provided by the farm management to keep their workers labouring during long and often hot hours of working during Summer!

BUT WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT STRESS IN FARMING, THEN? We mentioned above about ‘this changing and uncertain world’ that we live in, but not about how the world seems to be ever increasingly being run and managed by ‘pre-millennials or millennials’ and how they can hardly remember a world without the Internet or a Mobile Phone! Farming and farmers may well develop an industry in the future in which everyone uses this modern technology with ease and comfort but, as a whole, farmers maybe unlikely to ever be at the sharp end of such developments. So what are farmers stressed about? (Editor says the constant ‘farmer bashing’ in the news doesn’t help!)

Probably it’s the same as with most other people that are running their own business – especially those that are ‘one-man bands’ – together of course with wife or partner! Not many woman farmers mind you; about 4% of all farmers are female. But the support is always invaluable; especially as the wife often works the same hours as her husband or partner.

After all, farming is a ‘lonely occupation’ these days as the era when farmers and farm workers used to work in large gangs or even in groups of 2 or 3 seem to be over. The cost of employing labour is now so high compared with the prices farmers get for the food they produce that reducing to a minimum the number of hours worked by employed labour is just another way that farmers try to reduce costs so that they can make a profit.

Recently there was a stack of booklets on the desk at the Vet’s Surgery by The Men’s Health Forum entitled ‘Fit for Farming – Men’s Health Made Easy’. It’s entirely for male farmers – despite the 4% of female farmers – but, it is in both Welsh and English so that makes it more acceptable, doesn’t it! So what on earth are all these stresses that farmers face?

WELL, THE WORKING HOURS are usually long and irregular. Farming can be a wonderful profession, but many farmers and farm workers have to work alone, and it can be very lonely. This relative isolation may suit the personality of some in farming but – because it’s not just an occupation but a way of life – then at times it’s difficult to create a sensible work-life balance. The magazine ‘Farmers Weekly’ ran a farmer survey in late-2018, designed to find out more about the stresses and strains of farming life. The survey confirmed that farming is an all-consuming job. Various survey show that – working on average 65 hours each week – many farmers find little time to relax or switch off, with 40% saying they find it hard to balance work and family – or even get away from the farm! Not surprising really when a 2013 survey by ‘Farmers Weekly’ showed that farm worker salaries were greater in the arable cropping regions than in livestock areas like South and West Wales.

And this ‘Fit for Farming’ booklet mentioned above is a real ‘eye-opener’; as it describes so many of the signals that both farmers and presumably those in other professions show when suffering from stress:

  • eating more or less than usual;
  • mood swings;
  • non-concentration;
  • feeling tense or useless;
  • feeling worried or nervous;
  • not sleeping well, and;
  • being tired and forgetful.

Quite a list, eh? And apparently this stress can also trigger physical symptoms as well: back pain; indigestion; irritable bowel syndrome; psoriasis; migraine, and; tension headaches.

TRYING HARD TO MAKE A LIVING is always a problem and ‘cramming’ too much work into each day. And there isn’t much good news around at the moment either; with the EU having just agreed the Mercosur free trade deal with the four South American countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Farmers think that the EU beef, poultry and sugar interests have been traded away by EU politicians so as to gain access to these South American trade bloc markets for various EU manufactured goods. And then there’s President Trump waxing lyrical about “a very substantial trade deal” between US and UK that may involve the import of agricultural products to the UK. Then more recently still, the head of the US Farm Lobby said that:

“..in any trade deal, the UK must accept US food standards – and that fears over practices such as washing chicken in chlorine and using Genetically Modified [GM] crops were not science-based”.

Ok so these trade deals normally take 10-20 years to negotiate but it just sounds like another nail in the ‘farming coffin’.

The outcome for UK livestock farmers in particular doesn’t look too good does it? After all, both Mercosur and US produce huge numbers of livestock and livestock products far cheaper that UK farmers can – but not of such high quality. And if the ‘Supermarket’ can import this cheap meat to sell to us – then they will and ‘to hell’ with the homegrown farmer and farm produce. With an extra 90,000 tonnes of South American beef to be allowed into the EU at very low import taxes, the beef sector that is already under intense price pressure and with rising costs, will face even more risk of financial disaster. After all, with a farmgate price drop of more than 10% in recent months, there’s much for farmers to worry about already, isn’t there?

But whether the UK leaving Brexit would allow this Mercosur trade deal to be avoided is not clear, but anyway the import of US beef might come next, eh? It’s all stress on farmers, knowing that MOST UK consumers want to eat UK beef and lamb, but that politicians and the Supermarket want to import meat cheaper than it can be produced here to keep the cost of food – which contributes to the cost of living – low, and minimise worker dissatisfaction!

FARM SUPPORT OR NO FARM SUPPORT? We’ve talked before about the farm support provided by the Welsh Government through the Basic Payment Scheme – better known to the public as ‘that annual farm subsidy’, haven’t we? This is the support given to farmers via the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy without which – as we’ve discussed before – many or even most Welsh farmers would go out of business as the farmgate prices for their food production often does not cover even the cost of production.

The Welsh Assembly Government and in England as well have talked enthusiastically about replacing these historic ‘subsidy’ payments with a farm support system that provides ‘public money for public good’. This sounds encouraging but then presumably all the battery of the existing regulations will stay in place – such as no hedge cutting between March and October, no slurry spreading 1 August – 31 March, and no ploughing or cultivating old meadows, etc ? But surely these restrictions already in place are for the ‘public good’, aren’t they?

But, encouraged by the many conservation organisations and single-interest lobby groups – and these do have far greater lobbying power over politicians than do farmers, as well as more potential votes of course – then this public money for public good’ is quite likely to mean more of a farmer’s time, land and labour to achieve these new scheme objectives, all of which will cost the farmer’s time and money! Not surprisingly perhaps, farmers are concerned that in order to receive these renamed and reorganised payments, they will be obliged to undertake costly work programmes that under the previous Basic Payment Scheme was unnecessary. So that’s a worry too, isn’t it!

“But why should the farming industry get any Government support at all”, you ask? Probably because ‘time and time again’ history has shown that without a vibrant and productive farming industry – in times of national hardship – the production of food by UK farmers for the population of UK is all that has saved our nation from hunger. And already, the UK is only 61% self-sufficient of the food required by us all; so if we started on 1 January and only ate food produced in UK, then by 21 August our food would have finished and starvation would beckon! OK, that’s rather simplistic isn’t it, but the reality is that we are reliant upon other countries in a world in which all is not always ‘gaiety and light’ and who knows which country might decide to restrict trade with UK and keep its food production to itself!

SO, OTHER THAN LOW PRICES at the FARMGATE and an UNCERTAIN FUTURE FOR SUPPORT PAYMENTS, WHAT ELSE MIGHT GO WRONG IN FARMING TO CAUSE STRESS AND DESPAIR? First is the weather of course, but as this has always been so variable that the changes – even if very inconvenient – are just accepted as being ‘par for the course’. After all, although farmers may pray for another 2 days of fine weather to finish harvesting the Wheat or make the Hay, they know that although this may be very high on their own ‘wish list’, it is certainly not in their control. Mind you, if things like that go wrong and the Wheat harvest is delayed and the Hay crop is ‘wettened’ and less good quality than it might have been, farmers would always blame themselves for not starting 2 days sooner with the Wheat and Hay– like ‘Fred’ at ‘Sevenoaks Farm’ did; but then he always gets it right, doesn’t he!

Then there’s all those Regulations to which all farmers must conform! These are not only monitored by the official bodies DEFRA and Natural Resources Wales, but also by the innumerable no doubt well-intentioned single-interest organisations who seem to have both the ear of the authorities and also the time and willingness to report the happenings on farms to them! Mind you, the politicians have all pledged their enthusiasm for ‘simpler management’ and ‘doing away with all the red tape’; but they’ve been promising this for decades and so far the red tape just seems to be getting thicker and thicker! So farmers always have concerns about the need to ‘conform’ and the paperwork seems to build up and just when it seems as though the ‘rules and regulations’ are fully understood, then a change of political personnel in Westminster or Cardiff – or just a perceived need for change ‘to improve the situation’ – means that ‘it’s back to square one’ on the learning and familiarisation process. More office work – more office work and less time doing the REAL business of farming!

We’ve often mentioned about how farmers like leaning on the wooden gate to the field and watching the stock in there, haven’t we? Whether by leaning on the gate or actually going into the field to check them, this is a routine and regular event. But what is the farmer looking for? First is whether the livestock are all there or have some been let out or escaped through that hole in the fence; then whether that small heifer has decided to calve and if so does she need any help; is the water still flowing into the water trough or has the flow rate of water dropped off because the water pressure is not high enough for water to reach that field at the top of the farm, and; are any ewes limping and need to be caught to treat a foot problem.

The list is almost endless and in recent years includes watching for rustlers who have rounded up sheep to be slaughtered and sold from abattoirs often many hundreds of miles away; or killed in the field and the choice cuts removed and taken away.

The incidence of dog attacks has increased hugely in recent years, often associated with Public Rights of Way across fields in which sheep are grazing. The National Sheep Association survey of sheep producers revealed that some 67% of members reported that sheep had been injured by dogs and 45% had production losses such as ewes aborting or having to be euthanised following irreparable damage to them. Although the average number of sheep killed in each reported attack was only four, in some incidents 30-40 died. Farmers in proximity to towns and large villages with non-farming populations are inevitably concerned at these developments and worry that more incidents will occur. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 31% of the Welsh population own a dog – and 22% own a cat. Not that many cat owners actually take their cats out for a walk on public footpaths through farmland, but dog owners do and apparently some often let them run exuberantly around rather than walk sedately on a lead.

So what else are farmers looking for when they lean on the gate of the field and watch their livestock?  Any animal looking unusual or acting strangely and perhaps off by itself in a separate part of the field to the rest of the flock or herd. Difficult lambings and calvings are routine procedures and although they may occur at inconvenient times – like midday on Christmas Day – this is just a normal part of ‘The Farmer’s Lot’ and have to be fitted into the day’s programme whatever else has been planned with family, friends or even with haymaking before the rain starts later that day!

SO WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO WORRY FARMERS? Animal diseases are always a source of worry for farmers; not only the normal ones like Twin Lamb Disease in pregnant ewes and the various Abortions of which Enzootic Abortion and Toxoplasmosis are the two most common – accounting for more than half of all abortions. But there’s also Campylobacteriosis, Salmonellosis and Listeriosis all of which can create havoc in the flock. With cattle there can be non-infectious causes of abortion such as a contamination of feed with Mycotoxins, or the infectious ones including Brucellosis, Bovine Viral Diarrhoea, LeptospirosisSalmonella dublin and Bacillus licheniformis.  Any of these can cause a so-called ‘abortion storm’ that can destroy a herd and its profitability for long periods. These can be really worrying times for farmers leading to a general unhappiness with life and – if mentally unstable anyway – self harm at the futility of it all.

But these diseases, health problems and the challenges of keeping animals healthy are as nothing compared with the stress and mental turmoil that the incidence or prospects of Bovine Tuberculosis [bTB] in the cattle herd can cause. Western Carmarthenshire and Pembroke[4] are classified by Welsh Government as High-Risk areas for bTB and the compulsory bTB testing of all a farm’s cattle is routine – and this includes The Farm at Botanic Garden. But, and despite the Government’s bTB eradication programme, 12,000 infected cattle were slaughtered in Wales in the past year; an increase and the highest number since this eradication programme started. Gareth Davies from the farm support charity Tir Dewi based in West Wales is quoted as saying in the Carmarthen Journal recently[5]:

“TB breaks farmers’ hearts, it culls their business as well as their cattle”

Yes, farmers are compensated for cattle killed for testing positive for bTB, but it can mean the end of cattle bloodlines bred over countless years and, whilst the strict restrictions on moving, selling or buying animals is in force, there is less milk and meat to sell and a reduction in income earned. One Carmarthenshire farm family of mother, father and two sons – with a dairy herd recently losing 8 cattle with bTB reaction – described their feelings about their loss as:

… something we have to live with and recognise that it’s devastating but as we are all healthy, we have to live with it and move on, don’t we?”

This is a philosophical attitude from a family farm in a hotspot of bTB activity, but it is not an attitude that is always shared by all such bTB affected herd owners. And it’s both a local and national issue for all of us – farmers and non-farmers alike – so we’ll talk more about bTB in a future Newsletter and perhaps some of these livestock diseases and the relation with us humans in another.

So the public perception of the farmers and farm managers on the 24,000 farms in Wales as being ‘staid and solid, strait-laced, unperturbable, serene, busy but not easily upset’ may not be always the case. But what about the farming population having the highest accident rate of British workers and a greater level of self-harm that any other sector? That’s true but probably there is no real difference between them and the other 3.1 million people in Wales!

AND WHAT ABOUT THE AUGUST NEWSLETTER? Having started to talk above about Bovine Tuberculosis, it would seem logical perhaps to carry on and describe the complex situation faced by livestock owners and managers. Because it’s not just cattle that can contract and carry Bovine Tuberculosis, but so many other species both domesticated and wild. This disease does affect us all in one way or another and it does connect both Farming and Wildlife, doesn’t it?


Peter Beeden                                                                                      18 August 2019

[1] Finishing or fattening sheep and beef cattle is the process of ensuring that feed is provided so that growth rate is maintained but the lamb or beef animal does not merely gain weight as fat. Consumers don’t like too much fat on a joint!  Many farmers like to ‘finish’ lambs and cattle on a cheap grass diet – as Huw does on The Farm – rather than feeding expensive bought in cereal-based food.


[2] A peck is an Imperial customary unit of dry volume, equivalent to 2 dry gallons or 8 dry quarts or 16 dry pints. Two pecks make a kenning [don’t hear that name much these days!], and four pecks make a bushel.

[3] National Farmers Union, 2014, ‘The Few That Fed The Many’.

[4] Includes those areas in and around, St Davids, Milford Haven, Fishguard, Haverfordwest, Pembroke Dock, Tenby, Cardigan, St Clears, Carmarthen, Llandeilo, Lampeter, Llanelli, Swansea and Port Talbot

[5] Carmarthen Journal, July 24 2019, “TB breaks farmers’ hearts, it culls their business as well as their cattle”

by Laura Clements.