New finishing units, enabling the safe and transparent sale and movement of beef cattle from TB restricted farms is essential, says the national body representing NI beef farmers.
While the threat of Bovine TB exists, the National Beef Association (NBA) NI says that Northern Ireland farmers should have access to the same facilities within TB restricted areas, as other producers within the UK.
Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) allow for the sale and movement of cattle from herds closed-down with TB, to other approved farms for finishing. AFUs thereby enable TB affected farms to function as normal and not have to hold large numbers of cattle on farm until clear of TB.
While common-place in other parts of the UK, NI must bring in more AFUs if its beef farmers are able to maintain beef supplies and cash flow in areas under TB restrictions, say the NBA.
“The lack of AFUs in Northern Ireland is a concern to the NBA, and we are pushing for DAERA to consider how non-grazing AFUs could be appropriate,” explains NBA NI board member Stephen Heenan, who runs a commercial and pedigree suckler herd in Downpatrick.
“Farmers need facilities to finish cattle and control the spread of TB,” he says.
As within the rest of the UK, AFUs can source cattle from multiple TB restricted and un-restricted herds. However, cattle sourced from TB restricted herds must have had a clear test within 90 days preceding their movement, with the exception of calves under six weeks old.
“We fully support high levels of biosecurity for non-grazing AFUs, and due to the density of cattle in NI, we are not at present asking for grazing AFUs,” adds Ernie Ritchie, NBA NI board representative.
“The NBA NI is pushing for strict biosecurity requirements to be in place, including wildlife proofing of buildings and feed,” he says.
Strict licensing measures will be followed. In English AFUs, the default position is that no surveillance testing of cattle is carried out in the unit. However, the option is available to test in exceptional circumstances, for example if high numbers of lesioned carcases are identified at slaughter.
Mr Ritchie, who runs a 150 head commercial suckler herd in County Down, explains: “Cattle held in an AFU should only be allowed to move to slaughter, or to another AFU, and inspection of the premises needs to be carried out at least once a year.
“But it is critical, until TB is under control, NI farmers need AFUs just like other farmers in the UK.”