How badly does a bovine TB breakdown affect a farmer’s mental health?

It has long been recognised in farming circles that a bovine TB breakdown has multiple consequences, such as loss of stock, problems with cash flow, costs of housing and feeding additional stock, loss of business control and uncertainty over the future.

All of these inevitably impact on the emotional well-being of farming families.

However, the true impact is likely to have been underestimated. Rebecca John, a third generation farmer from Pembrokeshire, is therefore asking a pertinent question – how does a TB breakdown on a farm affect our mental health?

Rebecca John

Familiar with the ups and downs of agriculture and livestock farming in Pembrokeshire, Rebecca is no stranger to seeing vets come and go for TB testing on the family holding Rinaston, near Haverfordwest, where they farm beef, sheep and dairy.

John said:

We all understand to a degree that farmers who are trying to run their business under a bovine TB breakdown are at breaking point.

“Given that mental health is inextricably linked to farm business sustainability and solvency, we must fully understand the ground-level grass roots consequences of this disease.

“I have seen quite a few farmers being impacted by TB and I know how I felt myself after having a failed TB test here on the farm and seeing good animals go to slaughter. It puts everything on hold,” said John.

Impact on bovine TB breakdowns

A final year Agriculture and Business student at Aberystwyth University, she is now conducting a survey for her dissertation, which aims to explore the wider impacts of bovine TB breakdowns on farmers’ mental health across Wales.

John continued:

“For my dissertation I’m exploring the relationship between TB breakdowns and mental health further.

What is worth considering, and something I’m hoping the data will shed further light on, is how it also affects people who haven’t got a TB breakdown yet. We know there is a worry every time you have your test.

“There is always a doubt if you’re going to pass or fail, and what that ultimately means for yourself and the business.

“I’m hoping many farmers can complete the survey to help me get a solid picture of the situation, which then hopefully can be used to address the problem further,” she said.

While the debate about the efficacy of the government’s bovine TB eradication policy and testing regime continues, farmers like Rebecca John, who wants to return home to farm after graduating, face an uncertain future.

I’m quite interested in pedigree stock and have my own flock of Kerry Hil sheep, but I’ve always wanted a herd of pedigree Aberdeen’s.

“But because the TB situation is so up and down with us, and we have never had a full clear test, I could never pursue that the way things are now,” she concluded.