Don's Diary

April 6, 2001

Answer call for vets to help with foot-and-mouth outbreak. At the Staffordshire operations centre, I am briefed on our area. The county is not a foot-and-mouth hotspot, but is a growing cause for concern. Introduced to the paperwork trail - a complex but necessary part of tracking the potential spread of the outbreak and applying Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food preventative measures.

First call to a farm at the edge of the Peak District. Examine dairy cows and lambing sheep. Some two-day-old lambs were dug out of a snowdrift this morning and now shelter behind a stone wall. One lame lamb but no sign of the disease. Serve a Form D notice further restricting livestock and human movements. The farm will remain under observation.

In the field again. Inspect cattle on a farm already under a Form D notice. Follow this with a visit to trace a possible vehicle or person link with an infected farm. Forward tracing is a large component of our work as we try to get ahead of the disease. Inspect cattle and sheep. Clinical signs absent in a sheep that, at least for a while, runs faster than me.

Early start to inspect a pure-bred Limousin pedigree beef herd. The farmer went through the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 1967. How could this happen to the same farming families all over again? Thankfully, I can give the all clear. Visible signs of relief all round. Feels good to be doing something to help.

Visit another farm, examine ewes due to lamb. The farmer is desperate because the sheep cannot be moved from a waterlogged field and conditions for lambing are dreadful. Offer welfare advice. End the day by inspecting three pet goats in a private household already under a Form D notice. Reminded that preventing the spread of the disease is not just a concern for rural communities.

Life as a Maff temporary veterinary inspector sometimes involves a long wait, similar to that being endured on so many farms around the country. After the rush of newly confirmed cases yesterday, the telephones are quiet. Spend day in the office catching up on paperwork and planning the next assignment.

A little bit of good news. I am able to lift Form D restrictions on a farm. The case involved a suspicious heifer with tender feet but no temperature, and a white tongue but no blisters. Not all symptoms of foot-and-mouth are immediately apparent, but with advice over the telephone from Maff in London, and further follow-up, it is decided that the disease is not present at this point.

Confirmed cases now total 779 and are rising fast. Some of the latest around here involve pigs, from which the risk of spreading the disease can be far greater than cattle or sheep. So far on my visits, I have been spared an infected farm or contiguous area slaughter but with two more weeks to go who knows what will happen?

Carole Brizuela is senior lecturer in animal health, on secondment to Maff from Harper Adams University College, Shropshire.

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