Why TB is forcing me to quit farming
Farmer Mervin Mullard has been providing beef in Shropshire for nearly 50 years – but he is soon to call it a day after becoming the latest to admit defeat in the battle against the deadly bovine TB.
Father-of-three Mervin, 67, has run Middle Knuck Farm near Bishop's Castle for 25 years after previously tending to cows and sheep on holdings in Cleobury Mortimer and Bridgnorth.
But he has seen his cattle decimated by the killer disease.
In the last five years alone he has lost 133 out of 200 cows on his 400-acre farm due to bovine TB and is in no doubt to the cause – badgers.
He spoke in favour of controversial new badger culls set to be piloted in two areas of the UK later this year when he welcomed Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to his farm yesterday.
"It's got to be coming from wildlife," he said.
"I have got a closed herd and they are all my own suckler cows. It has been years since I bought any, probably 15 years.
"There are a hell of a lot of badgers about. There are five badger setts in my fields and a lot just over the border, because we have a lot of woodland.
"We get a lot of sick badgers around here, you can see them and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
"Its frustrating, actually, that you can't do anything when you know what the problem is.
"Everybody local has got cattle but with everyone the numbers they have is coming down, and that is purely down to TB.
"I didn't see a badger until I was 13 and after that I didn't see another until I was 20.
"Now I can go out into one of my fields at night and I would see 20 of them.
"I like badgers, don't get me wrong. But I like healthy ones.
"There is nothing I can do. I have had to change my farming process so I can make a profit. I am farming with TB.
"Two years ago I wanted to go out and buy a bull, and I would have been prepared to pay up to £6,000 for it. But I could lose it within 60 days because of TB. It's just not worth the risk."
Mervin, who also has seven grandchildren, said he was now in the process of winding his farm down with a view to bowing out altogether.
"I'm not going to bring in any more bulls, the farm is winding down and I will bow out.
"There is the possibility of selling the fields for grazing, or even letting out the farm.
"I am well past retirement age.
"I have got three daughters but none of them have the slightest bit of interest in farming and, although I have one grandson who is, he is more into the tractor side and this is clearly a cattle farm.
"So it will be the end of an era in many ways – but there is nothing I can do."
North Shropshire MP Mr Paterson offered his sympathy for Mr Mullard's plight.
"It is another deeply depressing visit which only serves to enforce my own experiences on farms in other parts of Shropshire and indeed the rest of the country," he said.
"The only animals brought into this farm are bulls every five or six years.
"Everybody knows what the problem is, that's the stupid thing about it.
"It is absolutely terrible, this man has lost 130 cattle out of 200 in the last five years.
"There has been a very significant increase in the badger population around here and Melvin himself has seen very sick badgers in his garden.
"Until we can develop vaccines we have to use the available tools.
"It is very clear to me that we are the only country in the western world with a serious problem of bovine TB in cattle.
"It is idiotic if we do not attack the disease in the badgers as well as in the cattle.
"Let's not forget, this is a terrible disease for badgers. It is in the interests of badgers that we remove this horrible disease. It is a horrible disease for humans, badgers and cattle as well."
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