Large animal vets and bovine TB

Finished Tattoo

I’ve been working with large animal vets all my life. Indeed as a small boy I remember my father ‘looking’ after me when my mother had to go shopping. This looking after me consisted of me sitting on the shippon window ledge whilst they were TB testing. Given the thickness of the wall, the window ledge is about eighteen inches deep, so there was plenty of room. So one of my earliest memories is of the TB testing of cattle.

There was my father, my uncle and the vet. Back then, cattle didn’t have to have ear tags, identification was by ‘owners recognition.’ It was accepted that a dairy farmer would know his cows, and in the smaller herds that is still true. My grandfather was obviously ahead of his time, his cattle had had their ears tattooed with their number and there was a lot of peering at ears to try and work out what number the animal was.

The problem is that when the government recommended tattooing, they trialled the technique on Ayrshire cows. These have red ears and the black ink shows up reasonably well. Ninety percent of dairy farmers had Friesians and these have black ears. OK so the inside of the ear is a rather lighter shade but as there was only black ink it still is suboptimal.

So as a small child I witnessed three men trying to clean the inside of cow’s ears to read the tattoos. One thing that makes if difficult is that cows intensely dislike getting water in their ears. A tip for you. If you ever have to get a cow to stand up for its own good, pour some cold water down one ear. She’ll shake her head, flap her ears and probably stand up. So washing the inside of the ear so you can read the tattoo pretty well guarantees that you cannot read the tattoo because she’s shaking her head so much. I often wonder if the language I was exposed to as they tried to hold cows heads steady had an impact on my own vocabulary.

In the end they gave up on trying to read the tattoos. My father would tell them who the cow was. They then looked up her tattoo number from the herd list, and wrote that down on the sheet next to the readings from the TB test. Farmer’s recognition, you cannot beat it.

But to be fair, however we did it, here in the North of England we got bovine TB cleared out. In fact in Britain we almost cleared it out of the country, we got down to a handful of parishes in the far south-west which still had the disease.

But this area was one of the first. Indeed the senior Ministry Vet in our area wrote a rather nice letter to our vets congratulating them. Apparently they were the first practice in the county to have all their clients TB free. The letter thanked them, acknowledged the hard work and dedication that went into getting through the workload and then finished with the following comment.


I’m quoting from memory, it’s an awful long time since I saw the letter, but it read approximately as follows.


“We acknowledge the importance of ‘farmer’s recognition’ in correctly identifying animals, and realise that giving cattle descriptive names are an important part of this process. That being said, could people remember that our office staff are town girls and are having problems with cow names such as shitarse and long tits.”

If you want an insight into that world, the Yorkshire vet, James Heriot, wrote a series of books which cast a light into the time and place. Try

to begin with.


Still, I know a lady with her own opinions of vets


As a reviewer commented, “Another great collection of bite-sized tales from the author’s farming life. (The first one being ‘Sometimes I sit’s and thinks’)
A gentle sharing of observations from a sheep farmer (and his collie)
More wry observations of animals and humans!”


Tagged: , , ,

17 thoughts on “Large animal vets and bovine TB

  1. Stevie Turner September 30, 2019 at 1:24 pm Reply

    I don’t like water in my ears either, so you can’t blame the poor old cow for shaking her head and trying to get rid of it!

    • jwebster2 September 30, 2019 at 3:01 pm Reply

      Oh I’m sympathetic enough 🙂

  2. jenanita01 September 30, 2019 at 6:35 pm Reply

    I think cows get a bum deal, they look so quiet and well behaved. They do very well, considering they have to walk around up to their knees in mud…

    • jwebster2 September 30, 2019 at 9:55 pm Reply

      If they are in mud it’s because the weather has gone bad on us, and remember I’ve got to walk about up to their knees in mud to deal with them 😦
      Given the milk hygiene regulations, to have any chance of staying within them, most cattle housing is scraped out twice a day, or even more often with automatic scraper systems

      • jenanita01 October 1, 2019 at 8:42 am

        It must be a never-ending job!

      • jwebster2 October 1, 2019 at 9:56 am

        it is, even with a tractor scraper it’s at least twice a day when cattle are housed
        I’ve always described myself as a lavatory assistant 🙂

      • jenanita01 October 1, 2019 at 6:13 pm

        Not the best part of the job…

      • jwebster2 October 1, 2019 at 9:03 pm

        Although to be fair you don’t get shaken out of bed in the middle of the night to do it 🙂

      • jenanita01 October 2, 2019 at 7:49 am

        Well, that’s something!

      • jwebster2 October 2, 2019 at 8:12 am

        keep looking on the bright side 🙂

        I know my place 😉

      • jenanita01 October 2, 2019 at 5:53 pm

        Don’t you ever wish for a cleaner occupation?

      • jwebster2 October 3, 2019 at 5:08 am

        I have never had an employer and I was in my late fifties before I walked out of an office building and realised I’d spent the entire working day inside 🙂

      • jenanita01 October 3, 2019 at 9:34 am

        I do know what you mean, I work all day in my office, but my eyes are constantly looking out of the window…

  3. Jane Sturgeon October 1, 2019 at 1:16 pm Reply

    I dated a farmer and used to propel a wide-bladed shovel through the byre twice a day when the cows were housed over winter. That was his idea of dating and looking back I must have been smitten. I did love being around the cows though, especially in the milking parlour. I also chuckled Jim, at you thinking your Dad and Grandad were the source of your descriptive language. Lovely post…

    • jwebster2 October 1, 2019 at 1:47 pm Reply

      I always felt in my case it was ‘monkey see, monkey do 🙂

      • Jane Sturgeon October 1, 2019 at 1:48 pm

        😉 chuckling…

      • jwebster2 October 1, 2019 at 1:53 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: