WMN opinion: Who else but our farmers would put up with this?
Livestock farming is way of life, not a job. So despite the unsocial hours, the risks of a kick in the shins (or worse) from a lively bullock and the threat that the vagaries of the market, appalling weather and disease can severely dent profits, most livestock farmers would still rather be out tending their animals than doing pretty much anything else.
That's lucky for the rest of us who enjoy the fruits of their labours – in the shape of milk and meat – because sometimes it is hard to see why anyone would put up with the difficulties facing those who rear and care for cattle in order to make a living. It must have been hard enough before the spectre of bovine TB spread its deadly tentacles all across our region. Now, with new figures revealing a further increase in cases and some 20,000 beasts slaughtered last year in the South West, it is little short of incredible that there are people prepared to put up with it all.
Yet they do so for the very good reason that there are few more noble callings than producing the food we all need to survive and that a life on the land still has its compensations. Those born into it feel both a love for – and an obligation to – the farm they run and those that went before them and entrusted the future of the enterprise to them. The cattle farmers stick to it for another reason too – they have been promised action on bovine TB by this coalition Government. They can now see, some way into the future admittedly, a day when the disease is all but eradicated and the spectre of TB breakdown, the misery of seeing a herd slaughtered and the restrictions, red tape and loss of profit, coming to an end. They will be heartened, we hope, by the other article on this page from Somerset Lib Dem MP and Farming Minister David Heath, who pledges once again, in unequivocal terms, that a pilot cull of badgers will start this summer.
For the farmers living with the daily threat of TB striking their herds, the cull cannot come soon enough. Whether they are in the pilot cull areas or not they stand to benefit from this vital work which could – indeed should – lead to a more widespread cull of badgers and, further down the line, other measures, including vaccination, that will deal with this disease once and for all.
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How many other professionals would put up with the uncertainty that has become a hugely unwelcome part of livestock farming? And how long would other professionals have been expected to put up with inaction by successive Governments on this issue? There is no question that, on so many levels, farming – and livestock farming in particular – fails to be treated with the respect that it deserves. As a result, the misery goes on. The pilot badger culls, already the subject of one delay and likely to be bitterly and, in all possibility violently, opposed by protesters will not mark the end of the crisis, nor even the beginning of the end. It may, however, mark the end of the beginning. We can but hope.