What does it feel like to face foot-and-mouth disease? What does it feel like to have your farm quarantined? To have an entire geographic region closed to animal movement? To lose generations of livestock genetics in the blink of an eye? To receive little compensation for dumped milk or for meat?
For all we know about farming here in the United States, we know little about the terror, the frustrations, of farming in the midst of a major animal disease outbreak.
Paula Matthews and her husband, Laurence, live and farm 2,500 acres of owned and rented land in Surrey, England. This fall, she shares their family’s story in an online diary (www.manorfarmsurrey.com).
Her words are a gripping account of a world we can’t fathom.
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“Aug. 6, 2007. Just before 10 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3, I had a call from Laurence who was still out combining. He said to switch on the news because there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at Normandy. A chilling shiver went down my spine, surely just six years after the last devastating outbreak of foot-and-mouth, it couldn’t be back again, and this time so close to home?
“The news was particularly shocking because we farm 200 acres at Normandy, 100 acres of wheat and the other 100 acres is grazed for us by a neighbouring farmer within the 3 km zone.
“Aug. 8, 2007. The last few days have merged into one. On Monday afternoon, we heard from John Gunner whose cattle are grazing the land we rent at Normandy. His animals were showing some worrying signs, for example his bull, Ned, just wouldn’t get up, which is not normal behaviour. John called the vets straight away and by 4 p.m. they began to cull his herd of over 100 animals. John was understandably gutted.
“… so many questions were going round in my head: When did we last go over to Normandy, which fields did we visit? … The sprayer contractor works on many farms and last week he was in the cattle field at Normandy and then came over here, could this be a potential carrier of FMD?
“… We have 1,000 head of beef, the calves are in barns and the older animals are out in fields on 13 different sites, so it is taking quite some time to check on them each day.
“Aug. 9, 2007. Not a good start to the day. Some of the calves are looking a bit poorly so we have called the vet and just waiting for him to arrive … About 9 a.m., each calf was examined by two vets and a record of any symptoms was noted against each animal’s tag number. On the basis of these examinations, it was decided to make a precautionary call to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), who sent their own vet out to check the calves. From the moment our vet called DEFRA, no one was allowed to leave the farm.
“… There were all kinds of forms to complete and questions asked such as: When did the calves arrive on farm and from where and do we have any connection with Normandy? … Licenses had to then be completed to allow people to leave the farm. The staff, which had been stranded within the farm yard all day, could finally go home at 6:30, after disinfecting vehicles and footwear. They had strict instructions to go straight home to shower and wash their clothes at 60 degrees. The two local vets are not allowed near any livestock for 72 hours.
“DEFRA have erected a new sign on the farm gate prohibiting any access apart from a couple of licenced people.
“Now we must wait.”
(Next week, dealing with bureaucrats and media.)
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