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Mr Zummerset Comes Home, Part 9

by Robin Wale

Robin lived in Curry Rivel from the 1950s through his school years and early adult life. As he married he moved away from Oath Hill Farm (but not too far) though has since returned. In a series of short articles, Robin recalls his years in agriculture, his schooldays, growing up around Curry Rivel and his eventual homecoming.

Good morning, afternoon or evening, to those of you, who continue to read my articles.

I'm sure with this lovely weather, holidays and Glastonbury, my latest edition could have slipped down the radar, but we are now in the eighties. ( You can still read it here! Ed )

Yes, the eighties. A period in UK agriculture that a lot of us would like to forget. I had just joined Sheldon Jones at Wells, and I should mention that as well as looking after my loyal customers who had followed me from previous employment, I was now expanding my territory down into Devon.

That became a new challenge with new faces but, sadly before I had really settled, the awful disease BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) was identified on a farm.

This disease, which was to wipe out over 4 million head of cattle in the UK, was to me, being brought up on a farm and dearly loved working with animals, just horrendous. And so it was for all the other farmers involved with livestock.

To witness the distress it caused the animal with no treatment available and the only option to be sent off for slaughter, caused no end of mental suffering for farmers and their families, families who knew and loved these animals, animals that gave back so much affection when well looked after.

Thankfully the story circulated by Professor Richard Lacey that hundreds of thousands, quite possibly millions of people could die of it, was proven to be inaccurate. I stand to be corrected, but I think it was around 200 lives that were lost – a tragedy nevertheless for all those families.

The outbreaks continued until the '90s in cattle and, mercifully, the disease is now largely eradicated. Not to dwell on the cause, but suffice to say the animal feed industry has learnt a lot.

Gradually life settles down for me, and I establish a good ledger in Somerset and part of West Devon but, lurking in the background, the industry is streamlining very quickly. With many takeovers and amalgamations we all start looking over our shoulders to see if we will be the next ones to lose our identity.

Next time I'll tell you about a period of my life, up until retirement, that I never could have foreseen!

Much is written in scientific, technical and economic terms about BSE, and I intended to include links to more information for the benefit of our readers who may be a little younger or, like me, brought up in a city and not really being aware of the full impact. However, I could find nothing documented that really got to grips with the animal suffering and human tragedy that was, so called, Mad Cow Disease. So no links. But thank you Robin for reminding us of the care and love shown by farmers to their herds, and how devastating it must have been to witness this wholesale slaughter. Ed

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