Death on the farm – one man’s hell

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The truck comes to Frank Peters’ farm at 8 every morning.

Soon after, it leaves with more of his dairy herd.

It is heart-breaking – there has been no shortage of tears in the Peters home – and he believes it is unnecessary.

The truck takes the cows for slaughter.

Mycoplasma bovis has come to Mr Peters’ Pendarves dairy farm and Mr Peters believes that rather than depopulating his farm – and others – the disease, as it has been overseas, should simply be managed. [The Government is expected to make an anouncement on eradication or managing the disease on Monday].

Mr Peters said that since learning his property had a cow which tested positive for Mycoplasma bovis, and then restriction orders and the worst – the order to depopulate – his life had been in turmoil.

Frank Peters reckons he has never backed away from a fight – and never will – and has been vocal in his opposition to eradication.

He is vocal, too, about what he sees as lack of planning for the future by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and comments about farmers abusing the Nait stock identification system and black-market trading.

“It is pretty insulting,” Mr Peters said.

Mr Peters has been front and centre of Mycoplasma bovis: he would rather be doing what he does best – getting good production from dairy cows.

Before he took on dairying, he was a joiner, working in that trade until he was 22.

Then he turned to dairying, working for a wage, then buying 80 cows from his father – a dairy farmer – and 45 more and began share-milking 125.

Then he took it to 250 cows in the Waikato before shifting to Glenavy.

In 1995 he came to Ashburton and bought a coastal Pendarves farm in 2001.

Things were going well.

Then came Mycoplasma bovis.

Mr Peters was watchful when news of infection at southern farms came out.

“We knew we had bought from there in 2014. We started testing in March (this year) and they gave a notice of direction about March 22.

“They did a re-test on March 29. When they came back there was a trace cow to re-test.

“These were blood tests. On the 29th we were told they wanted milk tests from 47 trace cows.”
In April the farm became a restricted property and an infected herd on April 24.
“We were told there was a depopulation order on our herd.”
Mr Peters had 1220 cows, plus 200 calves and 200 heifers on a run-off block.
“We are trying to work with MPI to keep our winter herd till they dry off.”
Mr Peters said that as the farm had two sheds, he could effectively split the farm.
As of last week, 360 cows had gone. Some 670 are to go.
“Every truck that goes out, the feeling is the same. It’s the same feeling for everybody. We have some hard days ahead.
“We have 670 head of milking cows and 300 calves that also have to go.
“There will be some painful things in the next wee while.
“This is unnecessary. This disease is nothing to be scared of; it’s a disease that has been controlled.
Yes, from time to time there are some issues, but with good husbandry you won’t have issues.
“In our case we have milked these cows for four seasons and over that time there has been no mastitis, no swollen hocks, no pneumonia – we haven’t had any at all.
“It’s a disease that comes with stress; it comes on the back of something else.”
Mr Peters said that without a depopulation order, farmers would manage and cull affected animals.
He said the disease could not be eradicated and should be managed.
Mr Peters said he was waiting for compensation, but his values differed from those offered.
He related it to trying to sell a dirty car in that he had not prepared his herd for sale.
The compensation would also include the milk loss, worked out through dairy company figures.
Mr Peters said that when the first cases were found in South Canterbury, it was probably in many other herds.
So he faces many challenges: the pain of seeing truckload after truckload of stock carted off for slaughter; trying to organise another herd; feed; movement restrictions and feed, pressure from MPI to accept valuations.
Mr Peters said there were tears most nights, and he and his family were under great stress..
“It takes a toll on the family. It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to deal with.
“I remember my father going through Tb when he lost 20 per cent of his herd, and losing 20 per cent to brucellosis.
“I’ll keep fighting for manage ment (rather than culling) and I’ll ask MPI to sit down with farmers to see how we can work through this case by case.
“It’s tough. I felt as though someone had to say something.
“I’ve never backed off a fight and I never will.”
Mr Peters wants better communication from officials and now has more questions than answers.
“What the Minister (Damien O’Connor) is saying is not telling me anything. Some of the things he said on Nait (the stock movement system) are insulting. Our records
are good.
“Nait didn’t give me bovis,” Mr Peters said.