The 100 cows on Jersey Island that fell ill and died in the space of a few days back in December most likely died from botulism, the island’s chief veterinary officer (CVO) has said.

Jersey government received the testing results of feed samples from the Woodlands Farm herd last Thursday (February 9), which showed the presence of bacterial spores, but no toxins.

“We believe that these results, coupled with the exclusion of notifiable disease, and the signs reported at the time at the farm, all combine to suggest botulism as the most likely cause of death,” CVO Susana Ramos said in an update today (Wednesday, February 15).

The vet added that this was the main working theory throughout, which confirms what director of Natural Environment, Willie Peggie, said previously:

“We have a working theory and strong confidence in what caused the cows to die so suddenly, however it would be unprofessional, unwise and without scientific rigour to state that publicly just yet, until the further testing of the feed is complete.”


Botulism, according to Ramos, is characterised by “progressive muscle weakness”.

“Cattle are extremely sensitive to the toxin, and in most cases it is fatal,” she said.

The toxin itself is produced by clostridium botulinum, a bacterium found in soil, which multiplies in rotting vegetation or carcases, according to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

“Botulism is notoriously hard to test for, and diagnosis is often based primarily on the clinical signs and by ruling out other possible causes,” Ramos added.

Susana Ramos, Jersey Island CVO

Willie Peggie added: “We have been able to rule out a number of causes, by a process of elimination but have not been able to identify the toxin; we were aware from the outset that a conclusive laboratory result might not be achievable.

“We have no reason to believe that there is further risk to animals, or any risk to the general public,” he added.

Cows in Jersey

Over 100 cows from Woodlands Farm mysteriously fell ill and died in the space of a few days in mid-December 2022.

The carcass were incinerated and milk from the affected herd did not enter the food chain.

At the time, Jersey Islands Environment Minister, Jonathan Renouf, called it a “devastating loss”.

Eamon Fenlon, managing director of Jersey Dairy, dairy producers for the island, said he was “totally devastated” by what happened to the cows.

“Losing a part of a herd like this is heartbreaking. We can’t imagine how difficult this is for Charlie (farmer), his family and all at Woodlands,” he said.