At the time I first wrote about this in Out and About in Killererin 2001, the number of cases discovered had surpassed 2000. We had gone 28 days without further outbreaks. With only one case in Northern Ireland and a single case in the Cooley mountains, it is testament to the hard work and diligence of the Department of Agriculture here in Ireland that we managed to contain the disease.
Like many of my colleagues, I was seconded to help the Ministry of Agriculture and Food in England and I ended up in Exeter in Devon, one of the worst hist areas. On my first morning there, each person was assigned by MAFF to a team which usually consisted of a Vet, a Technical Officer, plus a man to carry out the slaughter. The first farm we visited was a North Down farm consisting of 590 acres with 459 head of stock, 300 of which were a pedigree freisian herd. The farm was run by a father and two sons.
The day before our visit, the father noticed one of his cows was lame and frothing from the mouth. He immediately contacted the MAFF who dispatched a Vet to the scene. The animal was later diagnosed with Foot and Mouth disease. At this stage, normally, samples would have been sent to Pembrithe but as the disease was rampant in the area, the Vet was advised to declare the farm an infected premises. (I.P.). This Vet and anyone else who visited the farm was termed ‘dirty’ meaning they could not visit any “clean” farm for seven days after, when they would be deemed ‘clean’.
Immediately following a diagnosis of Foot and Mouth, a policeman and soldier were positioned at the head of the road entering the farm. Disinfection points were set up and no-one was allowed in or out without authorisation. This included the farmer’s family, whose food etc. had to be brought in to them. The animals were then valued by appearance and their milk records. The valuation was calculated by private valuers.
Before entering the farm, the team of which I was one, were briefed on protocol. Wellingtons and rubber gloves plus waterproofs under disposable overalls had to be worn at all times. Anything taken on to the farm was not to be taken out again. Mobile phones had to be used inside plastic bags. On leaving the farm, disposable overalls were put into a bag to be incinerated later. Waterproofs had to be sponged down with disinfectant and vehicles leaving, also had to be thoroughly power-hosed with disinfectant.
Before putting down the animals, each animal was sedated with an injection of Rumpon. Following this, they became very docile and were walked to an area where they could lie down. They were then shot with a captive bolt release gun and subsequently “rodded” with a pithing rod through the forehead which shatters the brain. This may seem brutal but death is instantaneous. The animals were then sprayed and the head and feet of suspect animals were covered with plastic bin liners.
During the day, the farm was visited by a Health and Safety Officer, who made minor changes for safety reasons, as there would be in excess of twenty people working on the farm for the following five days. MAFF personnel decided on the disposal of the animals i.e. burning on the farm or transporting to an incinerator. Burning was decided as the most suitable option, partly due to the number of stock involved and the narrow road leading to the farm. The Department of the Environment then decided on the most suitable site for the pyre. Problems which had to be dealt with in arriving at this decision were, seepage to waterways from the burning carcasses and distance from buildings etc. The pyre also had to be built well away from the road. After the site was decided upon, a road 150 yards long was constructed to the site. An area 220 yards by 30 yards x 1 1/2 feet deep (about a length and a half of your average football pitch) was excavated.
Materials to carry out all of the above, then began to arrive on the farm – broken stone for the roadway; 1,000 railway sleepers, 1,600 pallets, large bales (8′ x 4′) of straw purchased from the farm, 21 lorry loads of coal (273 tons), and 13 barrels of kerosene. All the materials were deposited in the farmyard and had to be transported to the site of the pyre. It was a traumatic time for the farm family.
The sleepers were laid in four rows, the full length of the site (like two railway lines running parallel). They were then crossed with sleepers at intervals of 2 1.2 feet. The whole area is covered with pallets which were again covered with straw to a height of 2 1/2 feet. On top of this, pallets were placed upside down to help to hold the coal in place. The coal was then placed on top of this again to a depth of 2 feet. Following this, the carcasses were loaded on top in two rows with their feet up. If the farmer had sheep to dispose of also, these were placed on top of the cattle. It was a daunting sight that will be remain in my memory forever.
The carcasses were transported to the site in large dump trucks and were lifted on to the pyre by using chains and a swing loader. The kerosene was then poured on top using an unplugged barrel in the bucket of the Hi-mac. Before lighting, the local police and fire brigade were notified of the exact time of lighting. Lighting was done by soaking disposable overalls tied to long sticks soaked in kerosene. A security guard and the Hi-mac driver stayed with the fire all night. The Hi-mac was used to put back any of the carcasses which fell off the pyre. By 7 p.m. the following evening, the fire had all but burned out.
Next day, disinfection started. This was carried out by private contractors but had to be supervised. Every item of machinery old and new, every shed inside and outside and even guttering had to be power-hosed down. All the straw bedding had to be burned or treated with citric acid. The feeding face of silage pits were disinfected and sealed. Lime was put in the slurry pit to raise the pH. The milk in the bulk tank was treated with citric acid adn let off (three milkings from 250 cows). This was a rare sight, watching the milk mixing with the red clay of Devon. All the yard had to be cleaned and disinfected also.
It was then decided by the ministry that the army take over the disposal of stock which meant that a team could visit a farm and once slaughtering was completey, they could move on to the next farm.
The freisian herd was one of the finest in the area and other farmers who had purchased cows, springers, over the years, phoned and were willing to sell back the progeny of that stock which allowing the farmer to continue with the same line of breeding.
(This article first appeared in Out and About in Killererin 2001, P8)