Tough winter ahead for livestock farmers

PUBLISHED: 11:16 04 October 2007 | UPDATED: 21:49 29 May 2010

Dairy farmer Jane Schwier on her farm - Pic: Sarah Lucy Brown

Dairy farmer Jane Schwier on her farm - Pic: Sarah Lucy Brown

FARMERS in the Dunmow area are preparing for a tough winter with the current restrictions on livestock movements in place. Although Essex has now been downgraded to a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) low risk area, the arrival of bluetongue disease in Suffolk

FARMERS in the Dunmow area are preparing for a tough winter with the current restrictions on livestock movements in place.

Although Essex has now been downgraded to a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) low risk area, the arrival of bluetongue disease in Suffolk has placed fresh restrictions on animal movements for farmers in the area.

Dairy farmer Jane Schwier, who keeps 130 milking cows and roughly the same number of young stock near Great Hallingbury, said the current rules on animal movements were going to make the next few months hard to manage.

"We have animals that require culling that we're unable to get rid of, and also a backlog of bull calves that we would normally sell," she said.

As of today, farmers in the area are able to take their animals to livestock markets within the bluetongue protection zone, albeit under bio-security conditions that have been tightened up since the appearance of the disease last month.

However, this will not make things significantly easier for Mrs Schwier as she relies on exports, which are no longer permitted.

She said: "Usually our calves go for live export, but I don't expect to be able to do that again for a long, long time.

"It's affecting us mainly because we simply have more mouths to feed, but it will lead to logistical problems in the coming months.

"When we bring the cattle in at the end of the month we are going to struggle to find room for them all, and as we are calving between now and Christmas, it's only going to get harder."

Mrs Schwier is also closely monitoring her cattle for any sign of bluetongue disease. She said: "We're desperately hoping that it doesn't come this way. We need a cold winter, then hopefully the vaccine will be available in spring next year."

Along with many other farmers, Mrs Schwier is hoping for a cold spell this winter as the midges that spread the disease don't like cold weather.

Simon Brice, chairman of the Essex NFU branch, said that bluetongue disease restrictions in parts of the county could remain in place for as long as two years.

He said: "The important thing with FMD is to control, contain and eradicate it and by Essex coming down to a low risk, one would like to think that it is on its way out.

"However with bluetongue, which is a completely different disease, there are two zones - the control zone, which covers as far as Chelmsford and Cambridge, about 40 miles outside Ipswich, and the other protection zone, which is about 100 miles in a circle.

That goes out as far as Leicester, Slough and Brighton.

"Although restrictions for FMD have been relaxed, it does mean that those inside the outer protection zone and the control zone for bluetongue still have movement restrictions in place.

"And in the case of bluetongue, it looks like the restriction zones could be in place for two more years - it is not a five-minute situation."

Anyone concerned about FMD or bluetongue disease is encouraged to ring the Defra helpline on 08459 335577.

Trading Standards also advises animal owners to monitor the website www.defra.gov.uk for up-to-date information.

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