The trauma of witnessing 23 cattle including six calves shot dead in a pen on their farm due to bovine tuberculosis (bTB) has forced a distressed Monmouthshire couple to consider selling the rest of their herd and keep sheep instead.
With the December 17 deadline looming for views on the Welsh Assembly Government's proposed badger cull in an intensive action area in north Pembrokeshire, Farmers' Union of Wales members Rhys and Judith Parry, of Penterry Farm, St Arvans, near Chepstow, recalled their recent harrowing experiences when a number of their cattle failed a third TB test.
"When you load cattle on to a lorry to be sent off for slaughter you feel as though you've done the best for them. But it's hard to reconcile that with witnessing them being shot by contractors in a pen on the farm," said Mrs Parry.
"Following two clear tests, our latest TB test was on September 27. It showed 22 cattle as reactors or inconclusive and after cultures were taken for analysis we were told that the animals would be taken for slaughter.
"However, due to the fact that the cows were very heavy in calf, it was decided that an on-farm slaughter would take place. This was carried out on October 14 when 13 cows, four yearlings and six two and three-month-old calves were shot in the pen.
"The whole procedure was so traumatic. We feel that not enough emphasis is given to the stress placed upon farmers at times like this and, more particularly, the stressful way in which the animals had to be slaughtered.
"After the first one was killed there was obviously a great deal of panic amongst the remaining cattle. Some of the cows were very heavy in calf and, in fact, one of them had calved the previous night.
"The result now is that there are eight young calves that had to be hand reared and three cows that have had their calves taken from them."
The Parrys' 400-acre traditional organic farm carries approximately 350 head of cattle. It has been organic for a considerable number of years and therefore is, like the vast majority of Welsh farms, not run intensively.
"The fact that we had gone through two clear tests is important because, following those tests, the cattle were placed in a field which we know is close to badger setts in the nearby woods," said Mr Parry. "We are now very, very reluctant to put any cattle into this block of land.
"The bulk of our land is surrounded by woods and we have been so distressed by this latest episode that we are seriously considering changing our farming policy by selling the cattle and replacing them with sheep."
Normally they run a closed herd of 85 suckler cows plus followers and some bought-in organic store cattle for fattening but due to the recent outbreak of TB they are now down to around 50 cows. The majority of the cows are Limousin-Cross and are put to a Limousin bull.
According to the Welsh Assembly Government's website, bovine TB is a chronic, debilitating, infectious disease of cattle, badgers and many other mammals, including humans. In parts of Wales the disease has escalated over the past 25 years to unsustainable levels, placing a huge financial burden on government, taxpayers and farmers.
The WAG is committed to eradicating bTB in Wales by tackling all sources of the disease. The cost to the taxpayer in compensation to cattle keepers has increased dramatically over the past 10 years and since 2000 over £100 million has been spent on compensation alone.
FUW's bTB spokesman Brian Walters said: “We should be in no doubt that there are many members of the public who will respond negatively to the proposed north Pembrokeshire badger cull consultation but they are completely unaffected by this terrible disease, and have been lulled by wildlife groups into believing culling does not work and is futile.
“It is, therefore, important that farmers make their support for the cull known to WAG, as it is they who are directly affected by TB, and are on the front line in the battle against the disease.
“We have a pre-formatted response to the consultation which can be accessed and sent via our website at www.fuw.org.uk and those without web access can contact their local FUW office.”