“I can take it when a cow gets shot,” said farmer Geraint Evans. “But what hurt me the most was seeing the calf in the womb, being suffocated.”
He described the result of the regulation requiring pregnant cows that test positive for tuberculosis (TB) to be slaughtered on his farm.
There have been calls for the rules to be changed.
The Welsh Government said welfare was “first” when taking cattle from farms affected by TB.
In Wales, cattle cannot be removed from a farm after testing positive for TB.
Under severe circumstances in England – but not Wales – the slaughter process can be delayed when a cow or heifer is in the last 60 days of pregnancy. This is to allow the animal to give birth.
“The slaughter of heavily pregnant cows or heifers on the farm that have been identified as TB reactors is a harrowing event for all involved,” said NFU Cymru TB Focus Group Chair Roger Lewis.
“Bovine TB continues to devastate farming families across Wales and this experience only adds to the emotional toll this disease brings.
“We are aware that the Welsh Government is working to innovate its approach to TB and we stand ready to work with them to develop an alternative approach to this practice.”
Mr Evans, a fifth-generation Pembrokeshire farmer who has been living in and out of TB restrictions for more than a decade, vividly recalled watching six of his flocks be slaughtered on his farm.
“I had to line them up so they could go into the crowd and see them being shot,” he said.
“The cow, the mother, had died. And the calf fought for its life.
“It’s very, very exhausting.”
Putting that specific politics aside, Mr Evans described farming in Wales as daunting and depressing.
“There’s this dark cloud over us, and I’m describing to people that I’m farming in a straitjacket.”
Nigel Owens, who retired as one of the most famous rugby referees in the world, has been farming since 2019.
He said he has major concerns about mental health issues in the industry.
“There is a tremendous pressure on farmers and then there is the added concern of tuberculosis,” said Mr Owens.
“And there is no point in avoiding the discussion, the farmers took their own lives. And I’m not saying that TB is the only reason, but it’s part of the bigger picture that’s of great concern to farmers.
“You speak to those involved [mental health farming charity] DPJ Foundation and the number of farmers they are asking for help. I recently spoke to a friend who has never had TB and was recently affected by it and I saw him blown away.
“His ghosts [were] really very down. So it’s a problem and it’s affecting farmers and we have to do something about it.”
Samuel Kurtz, spokesman for rural affairs for the Welsh Conservatives, said farmers were turning to mental health charities as a result of the Welsh Government’s agricultural policy.
“I find that completely inhuman,” said Mr. Kurtz.
“I think it’s inhumane for the animal and there is no animal welfare benefit to this situation that we have here in Wales. And it is totally inhumane and unfair that farmers see this for themselves.
“To see pregnant cows and heifers being slaughtered with a calf still inside that is drowning in its mother’s womb.
“This is not an animal welfare situation that I want to be associated with and it is a real shame that the Welsh Government are still trying to maintain this policy.”
“A little dignity and respect”
“You can separate the cow or heifer from the main herd on the farm,” Mr. Kurtz continued.
“You can let it give birth with a little dignity and respect, and the transmission rate of TB between its mother and calf is very, very low, if any.
“What that can do is replenish the herd that the farmer is losing to TB with a live calf, give that calf a chance to live because it’s drowning in the womb right now, and also allow that cow to be in Would dying, which isn’t the case, isn’t happening right now.”
Figures show that the number of animals slaughtered for TB control fell from 11,655 in 2009 to 9,516 in the year to December 2022 – a drop of 18.4%.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Animal welfare considerations are paramount in the removal of cattle from tuberculosis-affected farms.
“Farm slaughter is carried out whenever cattle cannot be transported alive from the farm.
“Our TB policy is neither inhumane nor heartless, and the slaughter of cattle on the farm is fully compliant with animal welfare laws.”
The Welsh Government also said it was “aware of the enormous challenge of TB in cattle and the distress it poses to farmers who have to deal with it”.
“Since we set up our program, we have seen good progress towards eradication, with a long-term decline in new incidents and in prevalence.”