How much would a TB breakdown cost your farm?

A UK government report published this week has sought to put a value on how much a bovine TB breakdown sets back the average livestock farm.

The report was published by Defra on behalf of England, Scotland and Wales and based on research led by SRUC and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS, part of the James Hutton Institute).

The report shows the cost of a TB breakdown directly borne by livestock farms varies significantly. It showed a median value of around £6,600 across all farms in the survey, with a difference of £20,800 between the highest and lowest quartiles.

Median costs for herds of more than 300 cattle were significantly higher with a median of £18,600, whilst those for herds up to 50 cattle cost farmers £1,700.

It found testing, movement restrictions and output losses accounted for almost two-thirds of total costs on average.

The study found that not all farms experienced all categories of cost, with the cost of a breakdown increasing with:

  • Herd size (reflecting the scale effects of handling and maintaining more animals);
  • Breakdown duration (reflecting the increasing effort both of complying with testing and of coping with movement restrictions); and
  • The number of animals compulsorily slaughtered (reflecting disruption to planned production).

For example, the median total costs for long breakdowns (more than 273 days) were around £16,000, while those for very short breakdowns (less than 150 days) were around £4,600.

The latest bovine TB statistics for England show the overall number of new herd incidents of the disease is down by 10% in the last year (to May 2020), with a 15% reduction in the number of herds not officially free of the disease.

In Wales, the overall number of new herd incidents is down by 10% in the last year (to May 2020), with an 11% reduction in the number of herds not officially free of the disease due to an incident.

Methodology

The study involved focus groups of farmers, which revealed that questions about costs needed to explicitly ask about areas such as labour, feed and bedding.

It also highlighted that researchers should enquire as to why the additional expenses had been incurred. For example, through testing, isolating, movement restrictions.

Researchers collected data on farms that had suffered a bovine TB breakdown between January 1, 2012, and October 31, 2018.

This led to a final sample achieved of 1,604 farmers located in the High Risk and Edge areas of England and the High (HTBA) and Intermediate (ITBA) TB areas of Wales.

To ensure accuracy, farmers were given prior written notification of the types of questions they would be asked and were encouraged to refer to their farm records to help answer. They were also subsequently asked if they had done so, and how confident they were in their answers.

Researchers favoured using the median as opposed to the mean to avoid very large costs from skewing the data.