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FRIENDS RALLY ROUND FAMILY

09:00 - 19 March 2004 

Neighbours rallied round the Mitchell family when they heard that brucellosis had been found in their herd.

The Mitchells certainly did not deserve such a cruel twist of fate, said Paul and Rosemary Clancy, as they looked down their valley to Landare Farm, nestling in a wooded coombe with its big grass fields that lead down to the West Looe River.

"They are our nearest neighbours and have become good friends," said Mr Clancy. "We see them and talk to them every day. They are a lovely family and would do anything to help anyone. Their cattle and sheep are absolutely beautiful - so solid and healthy. It seems so hard on them, and so difficult to believe it could have happened."

Mrs Clancy said: "We always compare the Mitchells' livestock with everyone else's in the area and they always look so much better.

"When they got the new bull we joked with the Mitchells that we didn't like the look of him much. He wasn't anything like as good looking as the other bull."

Speaking for the local farming community, Peter Hooper, auctioneer at Liskeard Market, said everyone at the market yesterday was very upset to hear the news.

"It is a bitter blow to the Mitchell family, who are known in this area as first-class stockmen," he said. "We have spoken to all the farmers at the market today, and the whole agricultural community is hoping that this will prove to be a one-off. The news did not affect the market, and we saw some excellent trade."

National Farmers' Union chairman for Cornwall James Moon, who farms at Bolitho, a few miles from Duloe, said it was "desperately sad" for the Mitchell family, and naturally concerning for all farmers in the area. The Mitchells - who as well as farming beef suckler cows also keep sheep and grow some corn - were a very traditional farming family and highly respected, he said.

"Bull semen is much the most likely way that brucellosis may be passed on," he said. "It is possible that foxes, badgers or stray dogs could carry diseased afterbirth from one farm to another, but this is very unlikely."

He stressed that brucellosis was a bacteria, and not a virus like foot and mouth disease.

"It is nothing like as easy to pass on as foot and mouth. It needs definite contact to spread it. But all outbreaks are serious," he said.

"Brucellosis was a fact of life in the 1970s and 1980s, but then we started using a vaccine called S19 which cleared it up, and we have not seen any major outbreaks since then.

"Suckler herds are blood-tested every two years and aborted foetuses have to be notified to the Ministry. Outbreaks are always very localised."


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KILLER DISEASE HITS CATTLE FARM

09:00 - 19 March 2004  A bull traded through a market nearly a year ago probably caused an outbreak of the killer cattle disease brucellosis which has devastated a Cornish family farm - and put the whole farming area on alert.

A total of 105 cattle on the farm are being culled as a precaution and neighbouring herds in South East Cornwall have been isolated while tests are carried out.

The first outbreak of brucellosis in England for ten years sees a return of the spectre of farm animal disease and memories of the devastating foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001.

But unlike FMD, brucellosis is a bacteria and not a virus, and may only be transmitted by direct contact between animals.

Farmers are hoping that the discovery, which has left the three generations of the Mitchell family in a state of profound shock, will have been nipped in the bud.

Vets and officials from Defra are tracing the bull's movements before it was sold. A Defra spokesman said: "Clearly we are very concerned about this outbreak, but we have to await the outcome of tests. At this stage we have restricted movements on seven nearby herds and we should know the outcome of the tests on them in a few days' time. The restrictions will stay in place until then.

"We don't want to frighten people unnecessarily. Five cattle that tested positive have been slaughtered so far and the other females will be slaughtered tomorrow as a precaution."

A registered valuer was on the farm yesterday, and by this evening the 105 female cattle - cows, heifers and calves - and two stock bulls from the two herds of beef cattle will be dead.

David Ellis, an independent vet from Liskeard, said: "They've put restrictions in place and I hope they've done it in time. What is really worrying is where it came from originally."

"It's a disaster for us," said Clive Mitchell, who farms with his father, Gerald, at Landare Farm, Duloe, South East Cornwall.

"My father bought this farm 40 years ago, but the pedigree South Devon herd goes back much further than that."

Brucellosis, which causes cows to abort their calves - and undulant fever in humans who drink infected milk - had struck his herds out of the blue, he said. It was Tuesday of last week when the first cow aborted a calf, and at that stage the Mitchells thought it was just a case of bad luck.

But then the nightmare began.

There were abortions on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday - though on the last occasion the cow also gave birth to a live calf.

"We took samples to be tested at the laboratories in Truro," said Mr Mitchell. "The results were terrible, as they found brucellosis lesions."

He stressed that his cattle had not been in contact with any others.

"From the two herds, the pedigree South Devons and the crossbreds, we shall have just the 35 steers left from a total of 140," he added.

The cows that aborted were two older crossbreds, both aged ten, and two younger pedigree second-calvers. Vets tested the stock bull and found it in his semen, said Mr Mitchell. "I have never seen anything like this before. My suspicion was that it came from the bull. Now I'm going to lose both my bulls, the South Devon, and the Limousin which I have also been using. It's really heartbreaking."

Mr Mitchell said it was a terrible blow for his 16-year-old son David, who is currently taking his school exams and will one day take on the farm, and his nine-year-old daughter Katherine, who had a pet heifer which had recently calved.

Gerald Mitchell, who now lives in a bungalow on the farm with his wife Viv, has farmed all his life and was very sad that his pedigree herd was lost.

"It's rotten - and also very upsetting for our neighbours," he said.

There was one adjacent beef farm and two adjacent dairy farms, said Clive Mitchell. Cattle from all three would be tested for brucellosis, though so far as the dairy farm was concerned, milk was always routinely tested.