The owners of an award-winning Pembrokeshire dairy herd have spoken of their heartbreak after losing 60 per cent of their cows to bovine TB in just 16 months.

The Williams family run the Willhome herd of Ayrshires, Holsteins and Brown Swiss at Home Farm, Leweston, near Haverfordwest.

Their latest TB test has resulted in the slaughter of 17 animals, bringing to 138 the cows removed from the herd since April 2019.

Among the latest casualties was Willhome Challenger Amanda EX94, who produced her fifth calf just ten days before she was slaughtered on August 7.

Her accolades included being placed in the top three at the All Britain Calf Show and at the National Ayrshire Show.

She was destroyed because it was the third time a test had flagged her up as an Inconclusive Reactor (IR); she had however tested clear on a gamma test after the second IR reading.

Stuart Williams, who farms with his parents Philip and Sharon and his wife Vicky, questioned the value of gamma testing.

The family, he said, had pleaded for her to be spared. “We tried to make the case that she had tested clear on gamma and should therefore have been treated as a first-time IR on that third test but the ministry wouldn’t accept that. What is the point of that blood test?’’

Mr Williams described her as a “gem’’.

“When all her show miles are added together, she could have gone from Pembrokeshire to Madison, USA. It’s not just her show success, she was an absolute gem to work with.

“She never let us down, especially the last ten days when she produced a heifer calf and gain extra points to be Ex94 (3E) with her 5th calf but now the system has let her down.’’

In a statement the Welsh Government said its priority was to find and remove infected cattle from herds before they have the chance to infect others.

Recent testing had provided additional options for testing higher-risk animals, and had allowed the government to review its earlier policy of slaughtering all IRs in persistent TB breakdowns, it said.

That review has resulted in a revised policy of continuing to slaughter all standard IRs, but to conduct antibody and gamma tests on severe IRs.

“Data gathered from tests between 2010 and 2015 showed that a high number of standard and severe IRs went on to become reactors at further testing, and are at higher risk of becoming TB reactors – 40 per cent of animals with consecutive negative IR results on the gamma test went on to become reactors in the most persistent herds,’’ said a government spokesperson.

Until April 2019, the Willhome herd had never had a breakdown in the two generations that the Williams’s have farmed at Home Farm.

The 16-month breakdown has nearly destroyed their business, reducing their milk income by 52 per cent.

It has been a massive mental strain, and a physical one too as they currently have to run three separate herds – they had been given permission to buy 40 cows but these have to be kept separate from the main herd as do the group of IRs.

The next test in October could break the business as it will fall under the Welsh Government’s enhanced measures policy – in Wales tests on herds that are 18 months into a disease breakdown are carried out under severe interpretation and all inconclusive reactors (IRs) are removed for slaughter.

Mr Williams anticipates that this test could force some difficult decisions for the family – had the recent test being carried out under severe interpretation he has been told that 47 cows would have been lost instead of 17.

With cow numbers down to 130, he said further losses would make the business unviable.

“Our milk cheque has dropped by 52 per cent and we can’t sustain the business on that, let alone with more losses.’’

Bovine TB is casting a shadow on all the family, Mr Williams added, especially his father, who is past president of the Ayrshire Cattle Society.

“Dad is taking it very badly because the herd is his lifetime’s work, any cows that we are given permission to buy back in are never going to be our cows.

“It was the hardest day losing one of our best cows but we have also had days when we have had to watch heavily pregnant cows being shot on the yard, watching their calves kicking for several minutes later.

“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.’’