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The Fall and Rise of Bovine Tuberculosis in the UK

A COTSWOLD farmer is leading the way in the fight against Bovine
Tuberculosis in cattle by feeding badgers a special nutrient mix.

Dick Roper, who runs 3,000 acres in Eastington, came up with the
innovative idea after his cattle were infected with the highly contagious
disease in 1999.

For the last six years he has left mineral blocks held together with
molasses in fields where there are badger sets. Since then he has not
had one case of TB.

Badgers can act as a reservoir for the deadly disease, which has wiped
out whole livestock farms in the past.

But there are conflicting views as to how to control badgers on farms
as, unlike cattle, they are a protected species.

Bovine TB targets animals, including humans, with failing immune
systems and can attack any organ of the body.

Mr Roper believes the resurgence of the disease in the 1980s is
connected to the spread of maize farming around the same time.

He said: "I have done quite a lot of research about why we had gone
down with TB in 1999. I know it was a badger problem because we had
seen sick badgers that year, but I didn't know why they were catching it
and passing it to the cattle."

He says most farmers know if they do not supplement a maize diet in
cattle with vitamins they get a lot of disease problems.

After researching the subject he soon found out at that the spread of
maize from the South West in the early 1980s tied-in with the spread of
Bovine TB.

He also talked to a vet who had tackled the disease in the 1960s.

He said: "They used to go into a parish and test every farm in the area
and then once the parish was clear you were then allowed to restock.

"By the time they got into the 1970s TB was a non-problem and had
almost been forgotten about. If this happened why didn't the badgers
re-infect the cattle straight away?

"I am not a scientist, I am a farmer, but it seemed common sense to me
that this crop was having the same effect on badgers as it was on the

The mix he feeds the badgers is high in selenium and other trace
elements which are key to the immune system and not present in maize.

Now he is working alongside a leading nutrient scientist from Wales in
order to encourage other farmers to follow suit.

But Mr Roper admits he is particularly lucky because unlike other large
farms he can control his badgers.

He said: "We have four big badger sets right in the middle of the farm
where all the cattle graze and we are surrounded by arable farming and
the A40. It's not a universal panacea - it's just a different way of looking
at things. Going down with TB is a terrible thing to happen to a farmer. It
is very, very depressing."

Article Written by Tom Shepherd of the Wilts. & Glos. Standard.

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