ON January 1, 1960, the compulsory eradication of cattle with TB was brought into force in Co. Fermanagh. 

With it, a system of testing, valuation and removal was in place, and the then Ministry of Agriculture was hopeful that the pressing issue of bTB would be dealt with once and for all in NI.

Of course, ask any farmer in 2024 and they will confirm that this goal is far from met, and indeed, for many they will agree that the headaches of testing, closing herds and culling cattle is all they have ever known. 

It's little wonder that many farmers are growing increasingly disillusioned that in the modern-day bTB rates continue to rise. 

"It's frustrating that we have been testing for over 50 years and are still no farther forward," said Rosslea beef farmer, John Egerton. 

"In that time, they (the Department) still haven't come up with an accurate way of testing."

Mr. Egerton is part of an ever-growing group of farmers who feel more is needed to tackle the "scourge" of bTB locally. 

And for Mr. Egerton, who farms 400-head of beef cattle along with his three sons, constantly being opened and closed is hindering his ability to plan his farm business. 

"Over the last two or three years, we have had several cases of suspected TB turning up in the factory, despite nothing appearing during routine herd tests," he said. 

"Over the last two years, we have probably tested six times, and never found anything in the herd, yet then you get a call from the factory saying suspected TB has been found, and you are closed up immediately."

Mr. Egerton added that he and countless other farmers are frustrated at the perceived "inaccuracy" of TB tests, which can lead to herds being needlessly closed. 

"The herd tests are so inaccurate," he said. "The skin test is only 70 per cent accurate, so that's letting 30 per cent of TB through. 

"They (the Department) have been testing for decades and still haven't got an accurate way of testing. TB will never be eradicated if they can't get an accurate test; either that or come up with a vaccine. 

"With Covid, there was a vaccine within a year. If the will was there, you would think that after over 50 years they would be able to develop a vaccine."

For Mr. Egerton, the inability to sell stock anywhere other than the factory during closed times has rendered one of his enterprises - selling in-calf heifers - difficult.

"It (bTB) hits the cashflow bigtime. I planned on selling in-calf heifers in the Autumn, but I haven't been able to do that due to being closed. It puts pressure on housing, pressure on slurry, and pressure on finances. 

"This particular enterprise suits us, but if we are going to be constantly closed up with TB, I am wondering if we need to change the system."

Mr. Egerton added: "TB leaves you unable to plan, which is no good for any farm. I plan to sell heifers, and then I can't, and it impacts cash flow. It has a knock-on effect."