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In Which the Harsh Realities of Farming are Experienced

I suppose you might put it down to a lack of experience or an omission of rigour on our part but whatever, it does seem especially cruel that we have to lose Herald, our bull, (about who you can read here and here if you’re interested), before he has had a real chance to become part of things. Not to mention the economic blow which last week’s news has dealt us.

This story, as always, begins with a blood test.

Vet taking blood sample from cow

I travelled over to T & N’s to witness the routine TB testing of Herald, Woodbine, Daisy and Hollyhock and Woodbine’s calf. The vet was also doing a general blood test and checking to see if the cows were in calf, whether Herald had done what he was supposed to. The seeming lack of activity on this front had introduced doubt into our minds, so when it was revealed that at least two of them are definitely pregnant, and a possible for the other, there was excited relief all round. Which made the vet say in a practical and slightly incredulous way why wouldn’t they be in calf?

TB & blood testing cattle

You know you’re getting old when the vet looks about ten (the one in green)


The vet was very helpful and assisted with some resistance on the cows’ part, apparently unusual in some older vets, who sometimes just stand around waiting impatiently while you struggle to move an unwilling beast securely into position. She was also really happy to answer my many and possibly annoying questions. All in all a very positive experience, especially when four days later they were all cleared for TB. She also reassured us that the skin complaint would probably clear up in better weather but to be on the safe side she gave them a coverall shot for mites and other beasties which can live on the skin.

Happy, we moved them to a new area.

Moving Traditional English Herefords Cornwall

Traditional English Hereford Bull

Herald in his new foraging area

So when I got a call from T to say that Heralds blood test had come back positive for Johne’s disease it was a shock. This disease is a contagious, chronic and fatal infection of the small intestine which can take years to manifest but will eventually kill the animal. They can also pass it on, mainly to young calves.

The upshot of this is that we have to have Herald culled, even though he is showing no signs of the disease yet. We can’t risk him infecting the others, especially the newborns in 8 months time. What isn’t entirely clear is whether those new calves will carry the disease too. The other grim factor to consider is that at this stage, his carcass will be worth something. Not nearly as much as we paid for him, but it will be something.

Of course we are kicking ourselves that we didn’t get all the tests done on Herald before we made the bank account denting purchase. But it is considered very low risk in beef cattle, being mostly a disease which affects dairy herds.

It is a very sad day that our journey with Herald has ended here. I feel like I was just beginning to get to know him and feel less intimidated because of his genuine gentle nature and T & N have certainly become fond as he became part of their lives over the last few months.

He will be missed.

Winter Sunset Cornwall

48 Comments Post a comment
  1. Heartbreaking. So sorry.

    March 4, 2013
    • I can’t quite believe it…and it’s making me think I should have had the girls tested too! Duh. Guess we’ll find out come their testing time (July probably)

      March 4, 2013
  2. Pamela McMullan #

    Sorry for your loss we have had 2 cows die in one week and it is financially tough.

    March 4, 2013
    • Thanks Pamela. Even though we’re not reliant on the cows for income, it has been a real blow. It’s made me understand the troubles that farmers experience. Sorry to hear about your cows, what kind do you have?

      March 4, 2013
  3. very sad news, I hope your calves with be ok.

    March 4, 2013
    • Maybe I should commission you to do a portrait…or perhaps that could be my first subject…cue unrecognizable brown splodges probably. I hope the calves are ok too.

      March 4, 2013
      • cows and bulls are not easy, but its definitely your subject, maybe try painting them small within a landscape scene?

        March 6, 2013
  4. I cannot even imagine. I am so sorry. I hope everyone reading will join in prayer for God to compensate kindly, blessings of something new and, maybe, even more exciting for you all.

    March 4, 2013
  5. I’m so sorry for your news. On the flip side, and you’ve probably done this, but please do your research. Johnes tests can come with a false result. I had a friend a couple years get a “positive” johnes result, almost cull her beautiful jersey, had her retested a few months later and it was completely negative and has been ever since then. The test is much like a goats test called CAE, which is read on a scale, not a true positive or negative result.
    So sorry ya’ll are walking through this.

    March 4, 2013
    • This is really interesting thanks. I will discuss with my fellow owners.

      March 4, 2013
  6. Every story, every life has drama, must or the whole thing would be dull I guess. Yours is the only blog I read, and I have totally been sucked in. Sorry for your bull, what will you do now? One thing you do not seem to talk much about is the economics of the venture, how much are you relying on the cattle? Is this your only income? Etc. You write beautifully of the land and animals but I would like to read a bit more about the practicalities and your own personal life and self, I feel like I do not know who you are and who runs this place with you and why. Maybe I have not been reading carefully. I bring all this up because I am reading an interesting book by Adam Nicolson about Sissinghurst Garden in Kent and his struggle to get the NT to allow him to start a working farm on the ajoining grounds. I expect you know all about it. Anyway reminds me of your blog some, but he does go on quite a bit about the internal struggles of getting the farm bit up and running, how to make it viable etc. I think your blog could use a bit of that. Just saying. Craig

    March 4, 2013
    • Hi Craig. Well, in that case I suppose you might say the blog has done what I wanted! Thanks for sticking with it and your compliment about the writing. I know it might be frustrating for some (and possibly beause you know me a little already) that it’s not more personal but that was quite deliberate. I wanted the focus to be mainly on the land and the animals.

      March 4, 2013
      • And I understand and appreciate that land-and-animals focus. On my own blog, one of my own goals has been to remain “personal but not confessional”. I can’t quite say what that means, but it certainly means a focus on content, whichever direction I go.

        I found and then lost a wonderful quotation, so this may not be exact and I can’t attribute it, but here it is. “Don’t write about yourself all the time. No one wants to read your diary except your mother.”

        March 10, 2013
  7. Wow, such heart-breaking news. I’m so sorry to learn about Herald, and hope so much that the calves will be all right.

    March 4, 2013
    • Thanks Lemony, I do too. Will be coming over for a visit to you soon, I ran out of things to say on the amazing ice series 😉

      March 4, 2013
  8. S. Gosh, what a blow. So sad to hear your news today! Best Wishes…..

    March 4, 2013
  9. That is awful, so sorry. Even when carefully maintaining an emotional distance for the sake of process (i.e. farming, raising livestock), it can be so difficult to say goodbye to these animals when they leave us at the wrong time.

    March 4, 2013
    • I am not very practised in maintaining emotional distance! But it will have to be done when the calves come along. It’s all a learning experience. Thanks for the comment.

      March 4, 2013
  10. The great Aussie understatement “Bugger” would seem emminently fitting for this occasion :(. Poor Herald…poor you! I guess that’s what farming is all about. Riding that very fine line between nature and cultivated abundance that sometimes has us tipping from where we are sitting on the fence to the abyss below. It sincerely hurts to have to cull something that utterly doesn’t deserve culling. We had to do it to one of our roosters but a rooster is NOT a large docile bovine who you are bonding with. The worst bit is the sword of Damacles hanging over the calves. Is there no test that can be done in-utero to check? I feel another “Bugger” should be muttered low and beneath my breath to illustrate the gravity of it all. So sorry for this James May style “Cock Up” in the extreme and a hearty “Oh COCK” in appreciation for the gravity. Hugs from Tasmania…propper hugs from someone who really does know what it feels like to dispatch something that really should be allowed to live but that circumstances have dictated needs removing from the equation 😦

    March 4, 2013
    • Thanks Fran, I feel hugged, though I’m not sure your arms would be long enough to reach around Heralds enormous girth 😉 On the test front for the calves I’m not sure what the procedure is, we need to sit down together and have a chat…in the comments above someone has suggested that we get him retested in a few months – apparently this can come back negative after a positive test. Maybe there is hope.

      March 4, 2013
      • I hope so…I guess you just have to try (same as I would try to reach around that enormous girth 🙂 )

        March 5, 2013
  11. Hope the little ones will be ok once born. Things like this are always difficult 😦

    March 5, 2013
  12. Gue' #

    What awful news. Poor Herald. Poor you.

    I’ve read all of Herriott’s books and to see the dread words, “Johns Disease” jump out at me from your post was a bit of a shock. Like you, I thought it was more of a worry for dairy cows.

    It’s almost impossible not to get emotionally attached to your livestock, especially on small holdings.


    March 6, 2013
    • Aw thanks Gue 🙂 I have new information coming in also that apparently T did consult a vet about what we should test for and was told only BVD was necessary. Hmm, not such good advice.

      I’ve been reading that it’s quite a common disease but there has been a tendency to keep quiet about it, esp in a beef herd as it doesn’t show for so long, so doesn’t affect the meat. I’m sure lots of farmers are responsible but there’s always the chancers I suppose. I guess that way it gets perpetuated.

      I remember the JH books, but mainly the TV series – loved it! I can hear the tune in my head now 🙂

      March 6, 2013
  13. I’m so sorry, that is really sad news. I don’t think many people could stop themselves from becoming emotionally attached to their livestock under the same circumstances.

    March 6, 2013
    • Thanks Debbie. I agree, nigh on impossible. I have to say that I now think that I LOVE my cows! 😉

      March 7, 2013
  14. Charlotte #

    Poor Herald – wonder where he got it from. Maybe worth getting a 2nd test just to make sure? – saw post re Jersey cows.

    March 6, 2013
    • I think so too. Dunno where he got it from but they usually get it when they are very young. H said he could have been exposed in the womb.

      March 7, 2013
  15. I’m so sorry to hear about Herald. I hope the calves are the OK.

    March 7, 2013
    • Thanks Sevenacres, I hope so too – this livestock business is not all a bed of cucumbers is it?

      March 7, 2013
  16. No it’s not. A big financial and emotional buy-in. I keep thinking maybe just a big market garden and some hens…

    March 8, 2013
  17. franion #

    I may be very far away from Herald but I’m really quite attached to him. Please keep us up to date.

    March 9, 2013
  18. There’s a lot of learning to be done, isn’t there? One blog you may enjoy looking through is Practicing Resurrection. The title comes from a Wendell Berry poem called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”.

    Bill posts a lot of information about a lot of things, but his animal posts are wonderful. They’ve had a lot of birth and death around the place, and he has plenty of useful things to say about it all.

    March 10, 2013
    • There certainly is Linda, and I’m not sure I’m going to very skilled at the killing business! Thanks, I’m going to have a good root around that blog. I quite like the sound of the poem too…

      March 11, 2013
  19. Oh, I’m sorry to hear this. Poor Herald, and what a shock. Fingers crossed for the calves, is it likely to be passed on genetically?

    March 17, 2013
  20. Just read this tragic page – really feel for you. But your calves should be fine if the cows are OK – Johnes is not transmitted in semen and all should be gone from the grass by the time the calves are born – I know because I’m a vet and have been through this myself.

    June 11, 2013
    • Thanks. It’s awful isn’t it? I’ve been meaning to post about having him slaughtered but I’ve become very mixed up about the whole process because it was so traumatic. It’s made me really think about how our meat is produced and the need for eating so much of it.

      June 12, 2013
      • Yes, we have not slaughtered anything yet as we are trying to build up numbers, but I suppose there would be no point in keeping beef cattle if people didn’t eat them. Will you have any purebred calves by Herald or were your heifers too young? I didn’t quite understand your situation. Anyway I must have read every article ever published on Johnes so any questions please ask.

        June 12, 2013
      • Went onto your site yesterday…lovely! Sadly no, they were too young. I’m thinking of going down the AI route now as I’d like to keep the heifers….maybe to show! We actually only got the cows as grazers as we’re managing the land for biodiversity…the breeding idea came as a secondary and I guess I didn’t really think it through. We were always planning to home slaughter but Herald was too big. I’ve never been to an abbatoir before it was a shock.

        June 13, 2013
  21. I am sure it would be a shock. Your heifers look lovely and it would be a shame if they didn’t have calves. We didn’t ‘t have a bull and had a go at AI – it wasn’t too difficult, although we had to use a hormone protocol, and last year we got 3 calves from 5 cows. It still seems astonishing to use 40 year old semen from a long dead bull and see a little calf skipping about! They are gorgeous – it made it all worthwhile. Thankyou for looking at our site – I must try to post more photos.

    June 14, 2013

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