Bovine TB: getting your cattle tested in England
The tests you must arrange for bovine TB, what happens if your cattle test positive, when cattle must be slaughtered and the compensation you receive.
If you keep cattle they must be routinely tested for bovine TB. You do not have to pay for routine TB tests.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) will contact you to tell you when a routine test is required and the deadline date by which the test must be completed.
In some cases not all the cattle in your herd will need to be tested. APHA will tell you which animals need to be tested at each test.
If there is a TB breakdown in your herd, extra testing will be necessary. You will not have to pay for this testing. It is your responsibility to arrange for these tests to be carried out.
A TB breakdown is when your TB free status is suspended or withdrawn after one or more of your animals fails a TB test (these are called reactors).
Your local council authority will enforce any decisions which APHA inspectors make about your herd.
APHA will inform the local authority if you fail to complete any test by the deadline date.
How often you must have routine tests
Your cattle must be tested:
- at least once a year if your herd is in a part of England that is classed as high risk
- at least once every 4 years if your herd is in a part of England that is classed as low risk
- at least once a year if your herd is in an area of England that is has classed as the edge area (part of Cheshire is 6-monthly)
Higher risk farms and industries
Your cattle must be tested at least once a year if you:
- run a city or open farm
- run an artificial insemination centre
- produce or sell raw milk and raw milk products
- rear heifers
- keep a dealer herd
- regularly bring Irish cattle on to your premises
- have a bull hirer
This is regardless of which type of area your herd is in.
If you’re not sure how often you must have your animals tested, contact APHA.
Arrange a routine test
APHA will write to you to explain:
- the type of test you need to arrange
- the earliest date that the test can be started and the latest date that the test must be completed
- the date that the test will become overdue
- the cattle that must be tested
- how to prepare for the test
- the organisation appointed to do the test
You should arrange the test as soon as possible with the designated organisation. You must do this before the deadline date in the letter.
Your test must be carried out by an inspector trained by APHA.
In most cases APHA will arrange the testing via a veterinary delivery partner who will then appoint someone to carry out your test. In this case the person responsible for testing your herd will be either a vet from your regular vet practice or a vet from another practice
APHA may appoint an APHA vet or an APHA animal health office (lay tester) but this is less common.
In some cases you may be able to choose another suitably qualified person to carry out the test, but you may have to pay for the test.
Contact APHA or talk to your vet if you have any questions about the test.
What happens if a test becomes overdue
A TB test becomes overdue if the test has not been completed for all eligible animals by the latest date given on the letter.
If the test goes overdue:
- your herd will be placed under TB restrictions and you will not be able to move any animals on or off your premises without a licence issued by APHA - you will need to contact APHA to apply for any licence
- APHA will write to you to explain what you need to do to ensure that testing is carried out
- APHA will notify the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) who, in most cases, will impose a penalty which will result in a reduction of any CAP Scheme payments - RPA will decide the amount of penalty which will vary according to the length of time that the test is overdue
- when the test is done you may get less compensation for any animals that test positive for TB and have to be slaughtered.
- the local authority may investigate and you may be prosecuted
Prepare for the test
Before the test, you must make sure that:
- your cattle are correctly identified by their ear tags
- all cattle movement records are accurate, including passports
- cattle movement and veterinary medicine records are ready for the inspector
- where possible, you avoid giving routine veterinary medicines like wormers or vaccines once the test has started and until the test has been completed for each individual animal
- you discuss with your vet the use of any necessary routine drugs in the 60 days before the test so that where possible drugs are used which have a short meat withdrawal time (the time after treatment before the meat can be used for human consumption)
- you have evidence of any cattle that have had a TB skin test in the 60 days before the test date ready to show to inspectors – no cattle should be tested again within 60 days of the start of a previous test
- you have a suitable area to gather the cattle for the test and suitable facilities for handling them
- you have enough staff to move cattle into handling facilities quickly and safely
An inspector may have to cancel the test on the day if they decide you haven’t prepared for it or it’s not safe to go ahead. You are still responsible for ensuring that the test is completed on time.
Make sure your facilities are suitable
Your facilities should:
- allow safe movement of cattle
- include a suitable handling facility (eg a crush and penning system linked by a secure race)
- make it easy for inspectors to restrain and examine cattle, to clip their hair and measure the skin with callipers, and to give them injections
- be in good working order and suitable for the size and breed of cattle that have to be tested
- be well-lit so inspectors can read eartags and perform the test
Officially TB free status
APHA considers your herd to have ‘officially TB free status’ provided:
- you’re up to date with your routine TB testing
- they have no reason to suspect TB infection is present in your cattle
When TB free status is suspended
APHA will suspend your herd’s TB free status if:
- at least one animal has failed the tuberculin skin test
- at least one animal has had 2 inconclusive skin test results consecutively
- the slaughterhouse, knacker’s yard or hunt kennel that you sent cattle to reports carcass lesions typical of TB
- one or more animal has had an inconclusive skin test result and your herd’s TB free status has been suspended or withdrawn at any time in the last 3 years
- your routine TB test is overdue
- one of your live animals shows possible signs of TB and tests positive to a skin test, or is slaughtered before testing and lesions typical of TB are found in the carcass
What happens when officially TB free status is suspended
When your herd’s TB status is suspended, APHA will:
- Apply movement restrictions - this means you must not move cattle on or off your site unless your local APHA office has given you a licence
- Arrange slaughter of any animals that test positive to the skin test
- Arrange for a post-mortem examination of the slaughtered reactors
- Withdraw your herd’s TB free status if post-mortem analysis finds lesions typical of TB or tissue samples test positive for Mycobacterium.bovis (M.bovis), the bacteria that causes TB
- Instruct you to cleanse and disinfect (C&D) areas of the farm after the reactors have been removed
- Provide you with a form to complete to confirm you have completed C&D
- Require further testing in most cases while keeping restrictions in place
When TB free status is suspended or withdrawn as a result of a reactor from a TB test, it is called a TB breakdown.
TB reactors must not be treated with routine veterinary treatments unless your vet thinks it’s necessary for welfare reasons.
Dealing with TB restrictions
If APHA apply movement restrictions on your herd, you must:
- notify anyone who sources the milk from your herd - this milk must be heat-treated before it can be used for human consumption
- make sure milk from reactors doesn’t enter the human food chain (do not add it to the bulk tank)
- never sell unpasteurised milk from TB restricted herds directly to consumers or for use in making other products
When officially TB free status is withdrawn
APHA will withdraw your herd’s TB free status when:
- the post-mortem of a reactor finds lesions typical of TB, and/or
- tissue samples taken from an animal test positive for M.bovis in a laboratory
What happens when TB free status is withdrawn
APHA will usually suspend your herd’s TB free status before they go on to withdraw it.
When TB status is withdrawn, APHA will:
- maintain movement restrictions and require more testing of your herd
- consider slaughtering other animals in your herd which they consider to be at high risk of being infected with TB
- consider slaughtering all the cattle in your herd if they decide the infection is severe or extensive (in very rare cases only)
- instruct you to C&D areas of the farm following the removal of all reactors and provide a form for you to confirm that this has been done
- share post-mortem results with your local health and environmental health authorities if your herd produces milk
- trace any animals moved from your herd during the time that APHA assesses that infection could have been present on your premises - these animals may need to be tested but you will not need to arrange this
- test any neighbouring herds or herds in your locality that they think could be infected
Inspection after a TB breakdown
An APHA inspector or vet will visit your farm as soon as possible after your TB free status is suspended or withdrawn.
The inspector or vet will:
- check your farm, talk to you and try to identify what triggered the TB incident
- check if your animals may have had contact with local herds
- check if there are other TB susceptible species on the premises and whether they need to be tested
- explain what further testing might be needed
- write a report on the outbreak - they will ask you questions about how you run your farm
The inspector or vet will also advise you on how to:
- reduce the risk of TB spreading within your herd and clear infection so that restrictions can be lifted
- minimise the consequences of the TB outbreak for public health
- minimise the impact of the movement restrictions on your business
- reduce the risk of disease spreading from cattle to cattle, and from wildlife to your cattle
- apply for movement licences and explain what cattle movements may be approved
Information to show the inspector
When a vet or inspector visits to investigate a TB breakdown, you should have the following ready:
- livestock movement records not recorded on the cattle tracing system, from at least 2 months before your last clear TB test
- any information that may help to identify the source of the disease and the risk of it spreading
Inconclusive test results
If an animal’s routine skin test result is neither clear nor positive, the test result is called inconclusive and the affected animal is called an inconclusive reactor (IR).
When an inconclusive reactor is found, the TB restrictions applied on the herd will depend on the herd’s TB free status at the time when the inconclusive reactor was found.
Inconclusive reactors must be isolated from the rest of your cattle.
Inconclusive test results in herds that are officially TB free
If your TB free status was withdrawn at any time in the past 3 years, APHA will suspend your officially TB free status and movement restrictions will be applied to the whole herd.
In all other cases, APHA will apply movement restrictions to the inconclusive reactors and your herd will keep its officially TB free status.
Inconclusive reactors will be tested 60 days from the start day of the test which found them to be IRs. If these tests are clear, APHA will lift the movement restrictions and the animal can rejoin the herd.
If the inconclusive reactor does not test clear, the animal will be slaughtered and your herd’s TB free status will be suspended if this has not already happened.
Inconclusive test results in herds where TB free status is suspended or withdrawn
If your herd’s officially TB free status has been suspended or withdrawn, and inspectors find inconclusive reactors in it:
- APHA will keep movement restrictions in place
- inconclusive reactors will be retested 60 days from the start day of their test - this may be at the same time as any other herd test that may be required
- if the inconclusive reactor tests clear, APHA will lift the restrictions on that animal and it can rejoin the herd -restrictions will only be lifted on the herd if no further testing of the whole herd is needed
- if the inconclusive reactor does not test clear, it will be slaughtered in the same way as a TB reactor animal
On some occasions in herds where officially TB free status has been withdrawn, an inconclusive reactor may be slaughtered as a direct contact.
A direct contact is an animal that APHA considers is at high risk of being infected with TB. For example, this may be an animal that has been in a group where there have been a large number of reactors or an animal that has been in close contact with a reactor that was found to have extensive lesions of TB at post-mortem inspection.
Slaughter and compensation
APHA will arrange valuation and slaughter of any reactors, repeat IRs or direct contacts.
You’ll receive compensation for these animals provided they have the correct ear tags and passports.
No compensation will be paid for any animal that is due for slaughter for TB reasons but dies while still on the farm. This is regardless of the cause of death.
APHA will contact you or visit your premises before the animals are slaughtered to confirm how much compensation you will be paid.
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) uses market prices to decide how much compensation is payable for cattle compulsorily slaughtered to control bovine TB.
At the start of each month Defra publishes a table showing the compensation rates (average market prices) for that month in each of the 51 cattle categories.
The cattle categories are based on an animal’s:
- age and sex
- pedigree and non-pedigree status
- type (eg from the beef or dairy sector)
If there aren’t enough price data for a particular category of cattle in any month, the compensation you’re paid will be either:
- the most recently available table value for that category
- an amount decided by a valuer - nominated by APHA or the president of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
For compensation purposes, your animal is only classed as pedigree if it has a full pedigree certificate issued by a recognised breed society before the date the animal was identified as a reactor or a direct contact (animal at risk of infection).
To receive pedigree compensation rates you must send the pedigree certificate to your local APHA office within 10 days of the animal being identified as a reactor or a direct contact. If the pedigree certificate is available online, APHA may be able to use that to confirm the animal’s status.
Reduced compensation for overdue TB tests
If you failed to get your cattle tested on time and the test becomes 60 days or more overdue, you’ll receive less compensation for any cattle that have to be slaughtered for TB reasons.
Your compensation will be reduced as follows:
- delays of more than 60 days but no more than 90 days - 25% less compensation
- delays of more than 90 days but no more than 180 days - 50% less compensation
- delays of more than 180 days - 95% less compensation
In most cases APHA will arrange for TB affected cattle to be collected and slaughtered.
APHA’s contracted haulier will contact you and agree a date to remove your cattle - you should help them with the loading.
You must ensure that:
- any cattle that are to be slaughtered have ear tag numbers which match their documentation
- you present the right cattle for collection or slaughter - you won’t get compensation if you send the wrong animal for slaughter
- your cattle are clean enough to slaughter as per food hygiene regulations
- your cattle are spray marked with an orange stripe along the back
- you present the correct documents to the haulier as instructed by APHA
Arrange slaughter yourself
Alternatively you can choose to arrange the slaughter and removal of animals yourself.
You won’t get any compensation but you may keep any salvage payments from the slaughterhouse. These are payments for the carcass if it is fit for human consumption.
You’ll need to:
- contact your local APHA office who’ll send you the forms that you must complete - some of these will need to accompany the animals to the slaughterhouse
- check that the ear tag numbers on the forms match the numbers on the animals’ official ear tags and your cattle are spray marked along the back with an orange stripe
- contact APHA to tell them when and where you’re having the animals slaughtered. APHA will give you a licence to move the animals and arrange a post-mortem at the place of slaughter.
You must also ensure your cattle are clean enough to slaughter in line with food hygiene regulations
If inspectors find extensive TB lesions on an animal in the post-mortem inspection, the carcass will be condemned and you won’t get compensation or salvage payment for that animal. You may be charged disposal costs by the slaughterhouse.
On-site slaughter of cattle not fit to travel
In exceptional cases (eg your animal is unfit to travel and/or unfit for human consumption) APHA will arrange to for the animal to be slaughtered on your premises.
They’ll also arrange for the carcass to be removed and a post-mortem examination at a disposal site.
APHA will contact you and agree a date for the slaughter.
You must make sure that you present the right cattle for slaughter. You won’t get compensation if you present the wrong cattle for slaughter
Arranging private slaughter of inconclusive reactors
You can also arrange to have an inconclusive reactor slaughtered at your own expense. You will need to get a licence from APHA for the animal to travel to the slaughterhouse.
Contact your local APHA office at least 5 days before the date of the slaughter to get a licence.
If you privately slaughter an inconclusive reactor rather than wait for its next TB test (or the animal dies before the second test is completed), you may have to get your herd re-tested or APHA may prolong movement restrictions.
You should discuss this with APHA when you’re getting your licence. After the animal is slaughtered, APHA will have it inspected for TB at the slaughterhouse and tissue samples may be taken for testing.
If extensive lesions of TB are found at the post-mortem inspection, the carcass may be condemned and no salvage payment paid. You may be charged for disposal.
You won’t get compensation if you privately slaughter an inconclusive reactor or it dies on your premises before slaughter.
If an inconclusive reactor dies on the farm or you have to cull it for its own welfare, you must notify your local APHA office.
If an inconclusive reactor dies on your farm or you have it privately slaughtered and the post-mortem shows evidence of disease, APHA will apply movement restrictions if they are not already in place and will test the rest of your herd.
Regaining officially TB free status
After animals are slaughtered for TB reasons, APHA will carry out a series of tests on your herd - these are called short interval tests.
Inspectors will test all cattle in your herd except calves younger than 42 days, at least once every 60 days from either:
- the date the last infected animal left your herd
- the date any infected animals or inconclusive reactors were isolated from the rest of the herd
In some exceptional cases, APHA may allow you to exclude some animals from short interval testing, eg bull beef in a biosecure unit. You will need to discuss this with APHA to see if this may be possible.
In some circumstances calves under 42 days of age will need to be tested.
Regaining officially TB free status after suspension
If your herd’s status is suspended, it must usually test clear for TB in one short interval test to regain officially TB free status.
Your herd must test clear in 2 consecutive tests to regain its TB free status if either of the following conditions apply:
- the herd has had its TB free status withdrawn due to an outbreak of TB in the previous 3 years
- the herd is on a farm that’s next to another herd which has had its official TB free status withdrawn
Herds in the edge area must have 2 consecutive clear tests after TB free status has been suspended.
If APHA needs to do a second test, they’ll contact you to tell you why and arrange the tests.
If your herd’s status is withdrawn because a TB test goes overdue, it will usually only be necessary to complete that test, providing the results are clear.
Regaining officially TB free status after withdrawal
If your herd’s status is withdrawn, it must test clear for TB in 2 consecutive short interval tests to regain officially TB free status.
After your herd regains officially TB free status
After your herd has regained its TB free status, APHA will automatically lift movement restrictions.
Testing after return to officially TB free status
If your herd is in a 4-yearly testing area and its status was suspended but not withdrawn, your cattle must have one test between 6 and 12 months after the date of the test that resulted in your herd regaining TB free status.
If this test is clear, your cattle will return to routine testing before the status was suspended.
If your herd is in a yearly testing area and your status was either suspended or withdrawn, or your herd is in a 4-yearly testing area and your status was withdrawn, you must have your cattle tested as follows:
- Have a test 6 months from the date of the test that resulted in you regaining TB free status for all cattle older than 42 days old
- If the cattle test clear for TB, you must have them tested again 12 months after the 6-month test
- If the 12-month test is clear, your cattle will return to routine testing before the status was suspended or withdrawn
APHA will contact you to tell you when these tests are required. You will not have to pay for these tests.