Hartpury College was established as a site for agricultural learning in 1947 with a small cohort of 50 students. Since then, the shape of the agricultural industry has changed drastically, and in response so has the agricultural college’s size and direction.
Our farm currently runs a variety of livestock enterprises including sheep, deer, beef and dairy cattle. The dairy herd consists of approximately 290 milking cows and additional replacements. This farm is in a High Risk Area and we are keen to educate our students on how to protect our herd from TB. We have therefore assessed TB risk in all areas. For example, as we currently rear our replacement heifers on a satellite farm (sharing grazing that is in an area known to possess wildlife vectors}, we undertook a badger trapping and vaccination project alongside the National Farmers Union (NFU) in 2012-13. This project concluded that, though there was a multitude of setts, only one or two were active at any one time. Our first TB breakdown in recent memory occurred in November 2014, which was also the first TB breakdown since the farm became a closed herd in 2009. Subsequent testing saw the farm regain officially TB free status, but only after much nail-biting.
Wildlife is far from the only infection factor for us to consider. Unlike many farms, on any given day we may have in excess of two hundred pairs of boots on the ground. This is discounting those students in class not physically stepping foot within the confines of the farm. Maintaining biosecurity measures is therefore a constant battle, both between individual farm enterprises and also the length and breadth of the country where our students and staff travel from.
However, the majority of the steps we take to avoid contamination and disease transmission are relatively straightforward. Disinfection points and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are provided for work in designated areas, with all other individual’s PPE being inspected before undertaking farm work. Concentrates and other feedstuffs are kept behind heavy, sealed roller doors to prevent wildlife access when not being fed. Fences and hedgerows are maintained to provide stock-proof barriers and prevent nose-to-nose contact between groups and neighbouring farms stock. Badger setts are mapped and monitored so that we can plan our turn-out during the grazing period. This minimises the occurrence of direct and indirect contact between cattle and wildlife vectors, such as the badger.
In the last year we have increased our biosecurity measures and introduced “badger proofing”, through the use of raised-roller troughs, mineral bucket stands and sheeted gating to the new young stock unit. These sheeted gates, along with four strands of high tensile electric fencing at low levels (in line with Defra’s recommendations) effectively limit the space available for badgers to enter the area. Our main concern is maintaining the grass surrounding the fence to prevent loss of power.
As a learning institution, it is our responsibility to educate future farmers on the signs of a disease such as bovine TB on a commercially viable farm. We also educate them on how to assess the risk of disease and understand what measures may help to reduce it. They need to be aware of the financial and deeply personal effects of this disease, and have a proactivity instilled in them to fight it. This year we will be undergoing video recorded trials testing our stands and troughs to their limits through the grazing period. If we can use our time for education and research it might just prevent another breakdown for others.