IN NOVEMBER last year, farmer Philip Fee's day started like any other. 

As he started up the parlour for the morning milking, the fact that he had a routine bTB test a few days prior was perhaps in the back of his mind.

As with any busy farmer in the current climate, he had plenty else to think about. 

However, as the day went on, he grew concerned.

Looking through his cows, he noticed lumps on necks; a clear sign that they had reacted to injections given during the test a few days previous.  TB was highly, highly likely. 

He soon noticed more cows and more lumps. He counted roughly 20 cows with lumps. Mentally, he prepared himself for the worst.

Official readings from the vet confirmed what he already knew.

22 of his 35-cow milking herd, along with two baby calves, were TB positive. They would have to be culled, and his herd closed. 

"It leaves you numb, you don't know where to turn," he recounted.

"Once the vet leaves the yard, you are on your own. No-one from the Department calls to see how you are coping. You have to get on with it."

Overnight, Mr. Fee's farmyard went from a hive of activity to eerily quiet. 

Of the 13 cows left, only five were giving milk.

They still had to be milked twice a day, and due to the large numbers of cows culled, the Department placed restrictions on Mr. Fee from buying in new cows.

Left with a decimated income, bills to pay and a house to keep, Mr. Fee admitted it was a "hard, tough four months."

"It was a big hit, and it has you losing out that income for four months, with meal and diesel to be paid," he said.

"I was milking five cows for four months. The lorry was coming every day, but lifting hardly any milk."

Having taken the farm on from his father, Mr. Fee said he can't remember a time when the yard wasn't filled with livestock. 

In this sense, he feels that the empty yard, once alive with the sounds of cows and young calves, was one of the hardest things to come to terms with. 

"The sheds were empty and quiet," he recounted.

"I was doing the milking and wasn't even doing two rows. 

"At that time, all the cows were our own breeding, and my father's before that. There wasn't a bought-in beast in it. We basically lost the whole thing. 

"It's hard when it's a way of life when it's all you have known."

In this situation, and faced with such loss, many would have quit farming altogether, or drastically changed their farming policy. 

But for Mr. Fee, dairy farming is in his blood, and it was this lifelong passion for milking that helped keep him going through the winter. 

Luckily, things began to look up after two clear TB tests reopened the herd, and the Department lifted the restriction on buying.  

After getting the green light, Mr. Fee was straight on the phone to a cattle dealer to replenish the herd with the compensation payout. 

Before long, cows began arriving at the farm. Once again, the calls of cattle could be heard in the cowshed. 

At present Mr. Fee is milking 28 cows on the farm, and the new additions have settled in well to their surroundings.

In equal measure, Mr. Fee has settled back into his old routine - as the old saying goes, 'happy cows, happy farmer'.

"It feels good to be back up in the numbers again," he said. "I am happy with the cows, and they have settled in well. 

"The compensation was grand, it covered it, but it didn't take into account the four months without an income."

While things are now more positive for Mr. Fee, he admits the impacts of what was a "terrible situation" live in. 

"I'd be living in fear of the next test, for sure," he said. "You be dreading it. You dread that letter in the post. Anyone can go down with TB.

"This area has got a bad hit with TB this last while, and I know a few neighbours who are down."

He also feels that DAERA officials could have done more when his herd was decimated by TB. 

"To be honest, there wasn't much correspondence from Department following the test. I hadn't had TB for 10 years, and back then they (DAERA staff) would have been out there to go through things with you. They would have been out to chat with you about it all. 

"Nowadays, once the vet leaves the yard, you are left on your own."