Back

Extract from Lucy Pinney's column in the Times September 22nd

After my cows were killed, I went bananas. The slaughtermen had to calm me down

I decided to talk to Pete Walters, who farms outside Hatherleigh in north Devon.

He has been through the whole cycle of foot-and-mouth disease, and has just started all over again with a fresh lot of animals. The neighbours have been very good about it, he said, with a note of uncertainty in his voice, as he pushed his way through the crowd of sheepdogs and terriers in his kitchen and began making a cup of tea. They watched the cows being unloaded and said how glad they were that they were back. But I cannot help feeling anxious. If I get foot-and-mouth again I will bring the whole town down with me.

A burly man, tanned very brown, with a shaven head and large moist eyes, he describes himself as hard, but comes across as gentle and emotional. But this is probably because, as he explains, he has been altered by the whole experience of foot-and-mouth.

He first saw it on the morning of March 18. Like most farmers, I am basically a loner, and my friends and co-workers are my animals. It sounds awful, he says, lowering his voice, but I would always much rather be with my cows than my family. And after they were killed I went bananas. The slaughtermen had to calm me down.

He does not remember much of the subsequent two weeks. He found out later that he spent most of it on the telephone, having long chats with feed reps, and even people at the bank. But when he awoke from this peculiar, dreamlike state he found he had turned into a passionate activist and began to devote himself to saving his neighbours animals from the contiguous cull.

He was outraged by the behaviour of those in authority. The way they hid the numbers of animals killed! Everything was put down on a ministry website, and when my farm came up I noticed they had put that 125 animals had been destroyed. So I rang them and said, How come it says 125 when I have got a bonfire on my farm with more than 700 animals burning on it? They never changed the number.

He is also convinced that foot-and-mouth got to his farm through an unhygienic ministry vet. He had dirty hands and he did not wear gloves. And unlike the other vets who came and did regular checks, he didnt just watch the animals from a distance. He insisted on going into all the pens where they were lambing and calving.

Much later Liverpool University Veterinary School rang me because they were investigating the spread of the disease, and they said 80 per cent of the farmers they had talked to were sure it had been spread by vets.

As we talked, Walterss 70 sentinel cattle wandered in and out of the two sheds and four fields where they have been closely confined. These are the same fields and sheds where his previous animals got infected, died, and were burnt  so if there is an atom of disease left anywhere, his new cows will get it in the next couple of weeks. If they do not, he will immediately bring a flock of pregnant sheep on to the farm.

These sheep have a special significance for him because one of the worst moments of foot-and-mouth involved a ram called Basil. When it was time for the sheep to go, I walked them all in, and I had this tame Suffolk called Basil with great big ears that used to flap when he ran to greet me. And I asked the two vets if I could have a moment alone with him, and sat and talked to him for a while and gave him a stroke. When I came out the vets were in a terrible state  but I was beyond tears. So I have gone and chosen a couple of Suffolk rams from the same bloke I bought Basil from, and this time I will have two Basils on the farm.

Did he ever think of giving up?

No, he says, fiercely. I would have been letting Tony Blair win then, wouldnt I?

Back