Case study – Beef farm in Gloucestershire

This farmer has kept cattle on the holding in Gloucestershire since 1961. The first TB breakdown on the farm occurred in 1985, and since then TB breakdowns have been frequent. The herd was clear of TB from 2010, but suffered a recent breakdown with eight reactors and four inconclusive reactors. The herd of 70 beef suckler cows and calves has been closed for the last 12 years, apart from the occasional purchase of new bulls to replace existing bulls servicing the herd. There is some potential for nose-to-nose contact with cattle herds from neighbouring farms.

Although there are no active badger setts on the farm’s land, badgers are known to inhabit the wooded slopes near the farm. A large sett is also known to exist on a neighbour’s farm. The farmer often sees badger feeding signs at pasture, and occasionally finds evidence of activity in his yard. Badgers were prevented accessing the cattle sheds in 2008. The farm participated in a biosecurity study from 2007-2009, which was funded by Defra and carried out by Fera. During the first year of the study, surveillance cameras regularly observed badgers inside the feed store and entering cattle housing on the farm. For the second year of the study, biosecurity measures were installed to prevent badgers entering cattle sheds (note: other farms taking part in the study were used to investigate biosecurity measures for feed stores, and therefore protective measures to the feed store on this farm were not installed).

Cattle feed on the farm included hay and grass silage, with concentrates stored in a trailer in an open barn. Although the feed was stored in a raised trailer and inaccessible to badgers, some spill from the trailer and feed present in the cattle troughs meant badgers were entering the farm buildings to find food. Until two years ago, maize had been grown and stored in a clamp on the farm. No supplementary feeds or cattle licks are provided for the cattle at pasture.

The biosecurity measures Fera installed on cattle sheds in 2008 included adjustable sections to existing panel gates to lessen the gap to the ground, adding metal sheet panels to barred gates and blocking gaps in buildings, and a low four-strand electric fence along a feed trough. During the second year with the biosecurity measures in place, surveillance cameras showed that badger visits to the cattle sheds stopped, while badger visits to the feed store continued.

The farmer says the measures have been very effective at keeping badgers out of the cattle housing despite badgers still being present from visible feeding signs at pasture. On one occasion when the gate panels had not been lowered the farmer found signs that badgers had entered the cattle shed. The farmer said “the biosecurity measures were very easy to maintain and closing the panels on gates was not an added time burden”. Although the electric fencing was more difficult to maintain with hay spilling from the troughs over the wires, he still considered it a deterrent to badgers. Some of the measures had been adopted in other areas on the farm, and tractor ruts had been filled with concrete to prevent gaps big enough for badgers under the gates.

Overall, the farmer thought that the measures installed were very effective in preventing badgers entering his cattle shed. He added “installing biosecurity measures gives an opportunity to get free of TB. Although I can see how some farmers not involved in the study might not see the benefits beforehand in installing biosecurity measures and would question the cost and time involved. For me it has been worthwhile taking part in the study and using the biosecurity measures.”