Bovine TB: get 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 compensation.
Routine TB tests
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (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
In most cases APHA will ask a veterinary delivery partner (VDP) to appoint a vet to carry out your test. APHA may appoint an APHA vet or an APHA animal health officer (lay tester) but this is less common.
If the VDP have been asked to carry out your test but you would prefer someone else to do it, you can ask another suitably qualified person (SQP) to carry out the test. You may have to pay for the test.
You must arrange the test with the appointed vet or SQP before the deadline date in the letter.
Contact APHA or talk to your vet if you have any questions about the test. If you keep cattle they must be routinely tested for bovine TB. You don’t have to pay for routine TB tests.
APHA will tell you when a routine test is required and when it must be completed.
In some cases, not all the cattle in your herd will need to be tested. APHA will tell you which animals must be tested for each test.
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
- once a year if your herd is in an area of England that is classed as the edge area (part of Cheshire is 6-monthly)
- once every 4 years if your herd is in a part of England that is classed as low risk
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 any cattle from Ireland on to your premises
- keep a hire bull herd or business
If you’re not sure how often you must have your animals tested, contact APHA.
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 deadline.
If the test goes overdue:
- your herd will be placed under TB restrictions and your OTF status will be lost
- you won’t be able to move any animals on or off your premises without a licence issued by APHA - you’ll need to contact APHA to apply for any licence
- APHA will write to you to explain what you need to do to make sure that testing is carried out
- the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) will, in most cases, impose a penalty which will reduce your CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) Scheme payments - the penalty 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:
- 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)
- 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
- evidence of any cattle that had a TB skin test in the 60 days before the test date is ready to show to inspectors – no cattle should be tested again within 60 days of the start of a previous test
- you have suitable testing and handling facilities
- you have enough staff to move cattle into handling facilities quickly and safely
An inspector may cancel the test on the day if they decide you haven’t prepared for it or it’s not safe to go ahead. You’re still responsible for making sure your cattle are safely tested on time.
You should 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.
Make sure your facilities are suitable
Your testing and handling facilities must:
- allow safe movement of cattle
- include a suitable handling system (such as a crush and penning system linked by a secure race)
- make it easy for inspectors to restrain and examine cattle, clip their hair, measure the skin with callipers, and give them injections
- be in good working order
- be suitable for the size and breed of cattle that have to be tested
- be well-lit so inspectors can read ear tags and carry out the test
A TB breakdown is when your TB free status is lost after one or more of your animals fails a TB test. These animals are called reactors.
If there is a TB breakdown in your herd, APHA will tell you that extra testing is necessary. You won’t have to pay for this testing, but it’s your responsibility to arrange for these tests to be carried out.
APHA will tell your local authority if you fail to complete any test by the deadline date. The local authority is responsible for taking enforcement action required by APHA inspectors in relation to your herd.
Officially TB free status
APHA considers your herd to have ‘officially TB free (OTF) status’ if:
- you’re up to date with your routine TB testing
- they have no reason to suspect TB infection is present in your cattle
When officially TB free status is lost
Your herd’s TB free status will be lost if:
- at least 1 animal has failed the TB skin test (so is a ‘reactor’ animal)
- at least 1 animal has 2 consecutive inconclusive skin test results
- the slaughterhouse, knacker’s yard or hunt kennel that you sent cattle to reports carcass lesions typical of TB
- your routine TB test is overdue
- one of your live animals shows possible signs of TB (clinical case), needs to be slaughtered before testing and lesions typical of TB are found in the carcass
If at least 1 animal has had an inconclusive skin test result, it’s an inconclusive reactor, or IR, and your herd’s TB free status is lost. Depending on the herd’s TB history in the previous 3 years:
- OTF status may be reinstated
- movement restrictions may be limited to the IR only while waiting for the IR to be retested
What happens when officially TB free status is lost
When your herd’s officially TB free status is lost APHA will:
- Apply movement restrictions - this means you must not move cattle on or off your premises unless APHA gives you a licence to do so.
- Arrange the slaughter and post-mortem examination (PME) of any reactor animals to check for lesions caused by TB.
- Tell you to clean and disinfect areas of the farm after the reactors have been removed.
- Send you a form to complete and return to confirm that you have completed cleaning and disinfecting.
- Tell you if you need to carry out more tests while keeping restrictions in place.
TB reactors must not be treated with routine veterinary treatments unless your vet thinks it’s necessary.
Post-mortem examination and culture
The result of the examination will be either:
- visible lesions (VL) - lesions typical of TB were found in the carcass
- no visible lesions (NVL) – no lesions typical of TB were found in the carcass, usually because the animal was infected shortly before slaughter and the lesions were too small to find. NVL doesn’t mean that the animal wasn’t infected
If inspectors find extensive TB lesions, the carcass will be condemned. You’ll still get compensation for that animal, as long as it has the correct ear tags and passport when it’s slaughtered.
APHA may carry out culture tests to try to identify any bovine TB in the sample, especially if the result of that test will help APHA manage your breakdown. The result may help decide what tests are required for you or nearby farms.
APHA will let you know once they have the culture results - usually 6 to 8 weeks after your animal is slaughtered but in some cases this can be up to 16 weeks.
Your breakdown is considered high risk if either:
- visible lesions are found
- culture tests are positive
High risk TB breakdowns
APHA will then:
- consider slaughtering other animals in your herd which APHA consider to be at high risk of being infected with TB (these are known as direct contact animals or DCs)
- consider slaughtering all the cattle in your herd if they decide the infection is severe or extensive
- instruct you to clean and disinfect 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 public health and environmental health authorities if your herd produces milk
- trace any animals moved from your herd to another premises during the time that APHA assesses that infection could have been present on your premises - these animals may need to be tested but you won’t need to arrange this
- tell you if you need to take any other actions for your breakdown as soon as the culture results are known
- test any neighbouring herds or herds in your locality that they think could be infected
Dealing with high risk 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 (don’t add it to the bulk tank)
- never sell unpasteurised milk from TB restricted herds directly to consumers or for use in making other products
Inspection after a TB breakdown
An APHA inspector or vet may visit your holding to:
- try to identify the source of the TB breakdown
- check if your animals have had contact with neighbouring herds, including non-bovine animals
- check if there are other TB susceptible species on the premises and whether they need to be tested
- explain what further testing is needed
- write a report on the outbreak
The inspector or vet will also advise you how to:
- reduce the risk of TB spreading within your herd and from wildlife to your cattle
- clear the infection so that restrictions can be lifted
- minimise the consequences of the TB breakdown for public health
- minimise the impact of the movement restrictions on your business
- 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 that haven’t been 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
Farm Level Data Report
If your herd is in the high risk or edge area, APHA will send you a Farm Level Data Report a few weeks after the start of your breakdown. This report will provide a summary of the recent bovine TB history of your herd and movement of cattle onto your holding.
Inconclusive test results
If an animal’s test result is not clear or positive, it’s inconclusive and the affected animal is called an inconclusive reactor (IR).
IRs must be isolated from the rest of your cattle.
TB restrictions will depend on the herd’s TB free status when the IR is found.
IRs in herds that are officially TB free
The OTF status is lost when IRs are identified in an OTF herd. Full TB restrictions are placed on the herd until its TB history is assessed.
Restrictions will remain pending retest of the IRs in either of the following cases:
- reactors have been found in a breakdown within the last 3 years and the breakdown was classed as high risk because of any VL or culture positive cattle at any time during that breakdown
- any bovine animal in the previous 3 years had lesions at slaughter in which Bovine TB was found on culture
In all other cases herd restrictions will be lifted and OTF status reinstated. Movement restrictions will be limited to the IR only pending retest.
IRs are tested 60 days from the start day of the test that 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 IR doesn’t test clear, it becomes a repeat IR or reactor, then:
- the animal will be slaughtered
- herd TB restrictions will be served if not already in place
- your herd’s OTF status will be lost
IRs in herds that aren’t officially TB free
If your herd’s OTF status has been lost, and inspectors find IRs at a TB test:
- APHA will keep movement restrictions in place.
- IRs will be retested 60 days from the start day of the test which found them to be IRs- this may be at the same time as any other herd test that may be required.
- If the IR 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 IR doesn’t test clear, it will be slaughtered as a reactor animal and examined in the same way as any other TB reactor animal.
An IR may be slaughtered as a direct contact.
A direct contact (DC) 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 get compensation for these animals if they have the correct ear tags and passports, even if the carcass is condemned at slaughter because it has extensive lesions of TB.
You won’t receive compensation for any animal that will be slaughtered for TB reasons, but which dies while still on your holding.
APHA will contact or visit you before the animals are slaughtered to confirm how much compensation you will be paid.
How much compensation you’ll get
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) uses market prices to work out how much compensation you’ll get for cattle 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:
- pedigree status
- type - from the beef or dairy sector
If there isn’t enough price data for a category you will be paid either:
- the most recently available table value for that category
- an amount decided by a valuer who is nominated by APHA or the president of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
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.
If you want pedigree compensation rates you must send the pedigree certificate to your local APHA office within 10 days of APHA identifying your animal 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 fail 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 if there are delays of:
- 61 to 90 days - you’ll get 25% less compensation
- 91 to 180 days - you’ll get 50% less compensation
- more than 181 days - you’ll get 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 loading.
You must ensure that:
- cattle 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 in line with the food hygiene regulations
- your cattle are spray marked with an orange stripe along the back if moving to a slaughterhouse in Scotland
- you present the correct documents to the haulier as instructed by APHA
On-site slaughter of cattle not fit to travel
In exceptional cases (if your animal is unfit to travel or unfit for human consumption) APHA will arrange for the animal to be slaughtered on your premises.
APHA will also arrange removal of the carcass and for a post-mortem examination to be conducted 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.
Arrange slaughter yourself
You can 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 follow these steps:
- Contact APHA, 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 if moving to a slaughterhouse in Scotland
- 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 examination at the place of slaughter.
Your cattle must be clean enough to slaughter, in line with food hygiene regulations.
Arranging private slaughter of inconclusive reactors
You can also arrange to have an IR slaughtered at your own expense. You will need to get a licence from APHA for the animal to travel to the slaughterhouse.
Contact APHA at least 5 days before the date of the slaughter to get a licence to move the animal to the slaughter house.
If you privately slaughter an IR 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, the herd may be placed under movement restrictions or APHA may prolong movement restrictions if they are already in place. Ask APHA about this when you’re getting your licence. After the animal is slaughtered, APHA will have it inspected for TB at the slaughterhouse and samples may be taken for testing. If extensive lesions of TB are found at the post-mortem examination, 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 IR, or if it dies on your premises before slaughter. If an IR dies on the farm or you have to cull it for its own welfare, you must notify APHA as soon as possible APHA may arrange for a PME to be carries out.
How to regain officially TB free status
If your herd’s status is lost because a TB test goes overdue, it will usually only be necessary to complete that test, providing the results are clear.
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, every 60 days, usually starting 60 days from the date of the last reactor, IR, DC or other infected animal left your herd.
In some circumstances calves under 42-days-old will need to be tested.
Testing to regain officially TB free status
If your herd’s OTF status is lost, it must usually test clear for TB in 2 short interval skin tests to regain OTF status.
If APHA considers the breakdown to be lower risk herds are only required to complete one clear short interval test to regain OTF status. The following factors are assessed by a veterinary inspector when deciding how many tests you must complete:
- the geographical location of your herd – whether your herd is located in the low risk area, high risk area or edge area
- the previous TB testing history of your herd
- the results of any post-mortem examinations or cultures from previous reactors in your herd
- the TB situation in herds surrounding you – this includes non-bovine animals
Contact APHA if you have questions about how many short interval tests you must complete before regaining OTF status.
After your herd regains officially TB free status
After your herd has regained OTF status, you will be required to complete an extra TB test at a shorter interval than your normal routine test interval. This is because APHA must closely monitor the infection status of your herd in the period following the TB breakdown. This test is done between 6 and 12 months after your herd regained OTF status.
If this test is clear, your herd will either return to routine testing intervals, or may require a second extra test. The second extra test is done 12 months after the first extra test. If this test is clear, your herd will return to routine testing intervals.
The following factors are assessed by a veterinary inspector when deciding how many tests you must complete:
- The geographical location of your herd – whether your herd is located in the low risk, high risk, or ‘edge’ area
- The previous TB testing history of your herd
- The results of any post mortem examinations or cultures from previous reactors in your herd
- The TB situation in herds surrounding you – this includes non-bovine animals
APHA will contact you to tell you when these tests are required. You won’t have to pay for these tests.
Published: 10 November 2015
Updated: 3 April 2017
- Updated text in the 'After your herd regains officially TB free status' section.
- Clarified information on visible lesions (VL) and no visible lesions (NVL) following user feedback. This new information is under the section Post-mortem examination and culture.
- First published.