Protect cattle against TB infection in high and low incidence areas

What you can do to help reduce the risk of bovine tuberculosis (TB) infection in your herd.

Applies to England, Scotland and Wales

This guidance explains how you can reduce the risk of bovine TB entering your herd from other cattle or infected wildlife.

The incidence (level) of TB in cattle varies across Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales).

Scotland is officially TB free (OTF). Parts of Wales have a very low incidence of TB. The north, east and south-east of England, have only sporadic TB breakdowns as a result of movements of infected cattle from higher incidence areas of the country.

It’s important to follow the rules and other advice to help prevent the spread of TB into free and lower incidence areas of the country.

There is a high incidence of TB in some areas of England and Wales. In these areas, you should take extra measures to protect your cattle. Find out more on TB areas in Great Britain.

The disease control measures set out in this guidance are good practice. They will help to reduce the risk of:

  • bringing TB and other infectious diseases into your herd
  • spreading disease to other cattle herds, wildlife and other TB-susceptible species

Current TB control measures include:

  • routine skin testing of herds at regular intervals
  • additional and more targeted testing of TB-infected and at-risk herds
  • TB surveillance of cattle at slaughter
  • movement restrictions of infected herds
  • the use of pre-movement and post-movement testing
  • good biosecurity and animal husbandry
  • sensible precautions when buying cattle

How cattle get infected with TB

TB is a chronic, infectious disease. It’s mainly a respiratory disease caught by breathing in TB bacteria released into the air through discharges from the nose and mouth.

Close contact with infected cattle, wildlife or other animals can spread TB.

Infection is also possible through eating feed contaminated with mucus, urine, saliva, pus, milk or faeces from infectious animals.

Milk from infected cows can infect calves.

Read about how to spot and report bovine TB and current measures to prevent its spread.

Improve the effectiveness of TB testing

Routine herd testing for TB helps to:

  • detect infected herds
  • maintain the OTF status of herds and your ability to trade
  • provide information on the TB status of each herd and its surrounding area

You must keep to the TB testing schedule set by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). This helps detect infection as early as possible.

To help the testing programme:

  • prepare for the tests and allow enough time to complete them
  • make sure your handling facilities are safe for the animals, handlers and TB testers
  • action requests for post-movement, tracing or check testing
  • present all the eligible cattle in your herd for testing when required

Read more about why you must get your cattle tested in England or testing for TB in your herd in Scotland and Wales.

Cleanse and disinfect your farm and equipment

The TB bacterium can survive in the environment for a long time, particularly in wet and cold weather. For this reason, you should:

  • keep livestock away from freshly spread slurry for at least 60 days
  • dispose of bedding and manure so that livestock cannot access them (manure can be composted and safely applied after a minimum of 30 days)
  • use an approved disinfectant that’s appropriate for TB
  • provide pressure washers, brushes, hoses and an approved disinfectant at your farm entrances for visitors to use
  • cleanse and disinfect water and feed troughs and recently emptied cattle buildings
  • cleanse and disinfect shared farm machinery and equipment
  • check that contractors practice good biosecurity
  • isolate TB test reactors and inconclusive reactors and cleanse and disinfect buildings and equipment contaminated by them
  • keep the grass land where TB reactors or inconclusive reactors have grazed empty of cattle for as long as possible, ideally for at least 60 days in the summer months and, as long as 120 days in cold, short day length conditions

Practice good husbandry

Good husbandry practices help reduce the risk of TB entering your herd from cattle movements and infected wildlife.

To prevent straying or nose-to-nose contact with neighbouring cattle, you should:

  • maintain robust perimeter (stock-proof) boundaries and gateways on your land and premises
  • use double fencing, especially at gateways, providing at least 3 metres of separation
  • avoid common grazing and shared watercourses
  • keep cattle away from badger setts and latrines in areas of high TB incidence in England and Wales

Wildlife-proof your farm

Make animal housing, feed stores, supplementary feed at pasture (such as lick buckets and calf creeps), and farmyards as wildlife proof as practical. This will reduce the potential transmission of TB from both:

  • badgers and other animals to your cattle in areas of high incidence
  • your cattle to wildlife in both low and high incidence areas

You should:

  • construct buildings with smooth and solid sides at least 1.5m high to prevent climbing by badgers – sides of buildings should not be open
  • construct smooth and solid doors and gates at least 1.5m high – you can add solid sheets of metal to the outside of a 5-bar gate
  • make sure gaps between the bottom of gates, doors, fences and the floor or at the sides are less than 7cm – check they do not get bigger by digging or chewing
  • feed cattle in secure buildings or yards, and check there are no gaps or holes through which wildlife can get in
  • make sure that housing is well ventilated and animals are not overstocked
  • store cattle feed in solid bins with locking lids or silos if you cannot secure your buildings
  • cover the face of silage clamps
  • regularly clean up feed spillages and clean out troughs and if possible, leave them empty at night
  • make sure you close gates and doors every night
  • make sure that you know the location of any badger setts and latrines on your farm, and keep your livestock away from these areas

Find more information on how to identify badger activity on the TB Hub.

If you cannot avoid feeding cattle at pasture, you should:

  • avoid feeding concentrates on the ground
  • raise feeders, water troughs and salt and mineral licks at least 90cm off the ground
  • apply a roller to the feed trough within a calf creep, to prevent badgers sharing calf concentrates

Use electric fencing

If you cannot adapt your buildings, you could create a wildlife-proof boundary with electric fencing. You can add this to a stock-proof boundary fence around your farmyard or buildings.

You can also prevent wildlife accessing silage clamps with electric fencing.

Use electric fencing at mains voltage to prevent wildlife accessing a soak away ditch where effluent or wastewater drains.

Strands of fence wire should be at 10cm, 15cm, 20cm and 30cm intervals above the ground.

Control infection from badgers

In high incidence areas, infected badgers can spread TB to cattle. This can lead to a herd breakdown which involves:

  • movement restrictions
  • slaughter of affected cattle

Badgers can infect cattle in 2 ways:

  • direct contact – where an infected badger comes near cattle
  • indirect contact – through contact with, or ingestion of, feed contaminated with the urine, faeces, pus or saliva of an infected badger

Badgers can regularly visit farmyards and farm buildings and contaminate unprotected food sources. Transmission of TB is more likely to occur within the farmyard and buildings than on pasture.

They are more likely to visit farmyards and buildings to look for food when the weather has been dry. This is because rain brings earthworms (badgers’ preferred food) up to the surface where badgers can easily get to them.

Badgers may:

  • enter feed stores, cattle housing and silage clamps
  • feed on stored feed, feed spilt in the yard and even feeding from troughs at the same time as cattle
  • walk between the legs of housed cattle and collecting bedding from inhabited cattle sheds
  • urinate, defecate or leave deposits of saliva or pus from bite wounds and abscesses on feed

Read more about what the government is doing to control the bovine TB risk from badgers in England and the TB Eradication Programme in Wales.

Health planning for your herd

It’s good practice to work with your vet to make a health plan for your herd which includes TB.

The health plan should:

  • consider current and past TB history of your herd
  • address the most likely TB risks your herd faces

Your vet can also give you advice based on their wider knowledge of TB incidence in the area.

Reduce the risks of bringing animals into your herd

Bringing animals into your herd carries a risk of introducing disease.

If you are in a low TB incidence area of the country and you source cattle from areas of the United Kingdom or from other countries with a higher incidence of TB, you increase the risk of:

  • introducing infection to your own herd
  • spreading it to neighbouring herds and the local wildlife

If you are in a high TB incidence area of the country and you source cattle from areas of the United Kingdom or from other countries with a high incidence of TB, you increase the risk of spreading infection to:

  • neighbouring herds
  • local wildlife

Cattle rarely show obvious clinical signs of TB. It’s not always possible to detect infected animals by testing. This means you should make judgements based on the:

  • TB status of the area that cattle originate from
  • testing and breakdown history of the herd of origin
  • any management system in the herd of origin that results in a higher than normal risk of TB, for example annual testing herds in four yearly testing areas

Consider breeding your own replacement cattle rather than restocking.

To reduce the risk of introducing TB by bringing animals into your herd, you must comply with legal requirements by making sure that:

  • stock from annual or more frequent testing herds are pre-movement tested before arrival
  • cattle in annual or more frequent testing herds in England and Wales are pre-movement tested before moving between your holding, grass keep or common grazing
  • cattle moved on to premises in Scotland and certain areas of England and Wales are post-movement skin tested where this is required, and at the correct time interval after the movement (depending on the place of origin of the animals)
  • imported cattle are tested as required and at the correct time intervals
  • animal identification and movement records are accurate so you can trace cattle movements between herds

You should also make sure that you:

  • know the origin of bought-in stock – get dates and evidence of previous TB tests and history of TB breakdowns
  • use ibTB to check the herd’s TB history, before buying stock from herds in England and Wales,
  • check the bovine TB testing intervals of your areas
  • avoid using, renting or buying grazing land in a higher risk area – even if the land you are using is occupied by your cattle only
  • isolate bought-in and returning stock – if you’re using a paddock or field, avoid any contact with your cattle or neighbouring livestock
  • arrange private post-movement skin testing ideally before newly-bought animals join the rest of the herd
  • get advice from your vet on reducing the risk of disease spread from purchased animals
  • be aware of the disease risk from hired bulls – consider alternative husbandry practices or check the location and testing frequency of herds where the bulls have recently been

Some herds in low incidence areas may have a higher-than-average risk of infection within the herd, for example they have had a TB breakdown or they source animals from higher incidence areas.

Read the published guidance on pre-movement and post-movement testing of cattle for further information.

Veterinary Requirements Notice or Biosecurity Requirements Notice – Wales only

In Wales, APHA may serve a Veterinary Requirements Notice (VRN), usually when specific isolation requirements of newly purchased stock are considered necessary.

Biosecurity Requirements Notices (BRNs) are issued following biosecurity inspections on farms with TB breakdowns and highlight the improvements a cattle keeper is required to complete to increase the biosecurity of their farm. Some guidance on how to achieve the requirement is usually provided.

Get TB advice and support

In England, the TB Advisory Service provides free advice and visits to keepers of cattle and farmed non-bovine animals.

In Wales, Cymorth TB provides advice and support to farmers affected by bovine TB with a visit by a specially trained vet. Find more information at GOV.WALES.

Get information on all aspects of bovine TB from the TB hub.

Published 3 July 2023
Last updated 19 July 2023 + show all updates
  1. Added Welsh translation.

  2. First published.