FARMERS have been told they must obtain as much information as possible on the health and movement history of cattle they plan to buy. It should include seeing the animal’s passport to minimise the risk of importing TB to their herds.

They should not assume that because an animal is being sold within a bovine TB-designated low-risk area that it has not previously been in a high-risk area. A simple passport check would show this.

However, an animal from a high-risk area does not necessarily carry a high risk of TB as there are many lowrisk, high-health herds within designated TB high-risk and edge areas.

A packed NFU organised meeting at Crooklands, Kendal, was told the ideal situation was to maintain a high-health, closed herd using only homebred replacements, though this was not always practical.

Even then, high bio-security was important. Double fencing of boundaries would stop cattle coming in direct contact with neighbouring cattle. Cheap electric fencing found on most farms could be used.

The meeting was told the spread of bovine TB to the north-west had been largely blocked by the urban sprawl of Greater Manchester and South Lancashire.

Ian McGrath, Knutsford dairy farmer and member of the Government’s TB advisory panel, said his own Holstein dairy herd first went down with bovine TB in 2002.

“We lost 15-20 cows the first time. At the time, there were only 12 cases in Cheshire and my vet said it was just a blip and we would get over it.

“Twelve years on, we are still getting reactors. Our normal routine is to have a six-month test and find two or three reactors again, then another six months and find some go down again.

“We have about 200 cattle on the farm, and over the 12 years have lost about 120 cattle to TB. These are not huge numbers, just a niggling amount.”

Mr McGrath said testing must be done properly. His cows are gathered every 60 days and tested.

“We have built our own race which slots at the end of the parlour,” he said. “It was planned so we could do these tests quickly but accurately.

“It did not cost us a lot and has saved us a lot of time. It is better than a crush as we can get five or six cows along it and go along them properly.”

Carl Padgett, former BVA president, said there was a strong case for increased preand post-movement tests, but a balance was needed as too frequent testing could reduce the sensitivity of the test.

The gamma interferon blood test for TB could often detect infections earlier than conventional testing, but might also produce a small number of false positives.

Farmers and vets must decide whether they were prepared to risk losing one or two healthy animals against the possible benefits of using this method.