Finally, the truth about badger over population

Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary
Gwyn Jones' Farm Diary

Very high temperatures last week are certainly uncomfortable for dairy cows whether they are inside or out. Cows are happiest when it’s about 5 degrees, as they are always producing body heat and high humidity (as we had last week) compounds the difficulty.

Many indoor systems have installed large fans to keep the air moving in dairy cow buildings and the latest technology, where very large (2 meter diameter) fans with variable blades automatically switch on when necessary, running far more often that you would think.

Milk yield very often drops as the cow uses energy to keep cool and often eats less, especially if it means leaving shade to do so. Water intake shoots up with 100 litres a day required by cows, again testing water pressure and more importantly water flow to the limit, and of course adequate space per cow at the trough is paramount. Very fiberous diets can produce more heat as the rumen has more fermenting to do, which also takes energy.

In or out, cows much prefer cooler weather and they can be seen panting and drooling once temperatures rise to 25c and above. A reduction in saliva can affect their digestion causing mild acidosis in the rumen which lowers butterfat content in the milk and nationally, somatic cell counts tend to go up in the summer, partly caused by higher temperatures. This summer is a particularly good one and not typical of the UK, unlike say Australia where high summer temperatures are much more likely; if not the norm.

Small calves suffer in the heat too, much more difficult to keep healthy and are also much happier when it’s cooler, but older dairy heifers cope very well, much like beef animals do, requiring very little in the way of grazing to keep them going. The dairy heifers at Tillington seem very content as long as we keep up with the fly spray. The in-calf heifers have now come to the end of the long grass which they had to munch through whilst new fresh pasture grew to the proper stage of growth, ready for them to graze. The rain on Friday was most welcome, and has freshened things up, but more is needed to make a real difference in grass growth.

I was pleased to see several articles in the press last week (one well informed piece in this paper) citing the damage and destruction caused by overpopulation of badgers. At last conservationists who care and have the courage, are beginning to criticise how the Labour government saw the number of cattle slaughtered rise tenfold at a cost of £100 million but avoided doing anything which might upset ‘Springwatch’ viewers and their urban constituents. They point out that a third of a million deer are culled each year with conservationist support without a word of protest and no one knows how many grey squirrels and rats are killed. Whilst 32,000 cattle are killed due to bovine TB each year, Brian May and the Badger Trust say it is unacceptable to kill a single badger.

At last the badger is described (by those who know and are interested) as the voracious animal which has no predator (other than cars), and having risen dramatically in numbers due to its protected status is now having a huge impact on rare and declining species, ground nesting birds, hedgehogs and bumble bees to mention a few. We also know that no country has had success with reducing bTB without tackling the wildlife reservoir, and in Ireland now together with cattle controls the problem has already been reduced by a third. If the policy is adhered to in this country we will also see a reduction in the disease, and many benefits for wildlife and conservation.

We lost two men from food retailing last week, Philip Clarke Chief Executive of Tesco was ousted after a difficult three-year period in charge; a profit warning was announced at the same time. He is replaced with Dave Lewis from Unilever known as ‘drastic Dave’, after his uncompromising record in cutting jobs and lowering costs. He has the task of turning this big ship around, and word is that Tesco needs to get back to what it used to do, which is to simplify the business of selling food and goods cheaply, taking on the discounters which are increasingly threatening. It’s the first time that an outsider has been appointed as CEO, and it’s a huge challenge with more than half a million people employed in 12 countries.

Karl Albrecht (94) who co-founded Aldi with his brother, starting from his mother’s corner shop in the 1930s and building an empire of 9,000 outlets worldwide and a turnover of over 50 billion euros died earlier this month. Short for Albrecht discount, Aldi was such a success that three quarters of the German population shop regularly at the stores, such is their popularity and simple approach to retailing. Typically stocking 2,000 products compared to 45,000 in other supermarkets, and not spending lavishly on buildings and display, a culture of restraint and value was ruthlessly applied by the brothers.

Returning from the Second World War, the brothers found that their mother’s shop was still standing after the devastation of Allied bombing at Essen, and set about supplying milk, bread and butter as cheaply as possible to the tens of thousands who were homeless, whilst the city and the country slowly recovered. Allegedly the richest man in Germany, Karl Albrecht never took a bonus, grew up in great poverty, and ensured by sheer hard work and effort that he would never be poor again.

Turning to the high end of retailing, I see that Marks and Spencer has abandoned selling red grouse in two of its London stores this autumn having been the first supermarket to sell the game bird last year, which was very popular with customers. Having worked on a code of practice with 15 estates in North Yorkshire and the Scottish borders drawn up by the RSPB and Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust to ensure that grouse moors are managed sustainably, sadly the company has been threatened and bullied by conservation groups led by Mark Avery former conservation director of RSPB who claims that the industry ‘reeks of criminality’ and wants grouse shooting banned. A pity when real effort to improve things is thwarted by simple slogans and envy.

Owen Paterson who was sacked as Secretary of State for the Environment has hit back with an attack on the ‘tangled triangle of unelected busybodies’ claims of having the planet and countryside at heart’. With harsh words for celebrities in particular, Mr Paterson challenges their expertise on various matters and attacks them for not caring for others less fortunate than themselves who could benefit from lower energy bills and healthy cattle.

He made a serious claim that civil servants have conspired with green groups to block progress on key issues such as extracting shale gas and protecting cattle from bovine tuberculosis. We will hear more of this without doubt.