Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Maids A-Milking

To the VLA site at Weybridge in Surrey, which is a sprawling mass of buildings (labs and offices) and several 'farms' dealing with all aspects of animal diseases - though mainly focused (for obvious reasons) on food animals. There are of course studies into rabies, etc, but the bulk of the work is concentrated on avian flu, scrapie, bluetongue, bovine TB and BSE, etc.

We were shown around one of the farms, where a study of the effects of low level BSE has been ongoing for the past 9 years or so. This was obviously once a normal farm, and the study is taking place in what appears to be a standard cow shed, though the necessary modifications, in place to ensure the quality of the scientific data, soon become apparent. It is a low level disease site, so the precautions for humans are minimal, at least for those humans not in direct contact with the animals.

Entering the building, we were signed in, and I was immediately struck by the sound of a radio (playing something like Heart FM) even though the door was locked and protected by pin code when we arrived. The Bangles sang Eternal Flame as we took off our shoes, swung over a low counter to don blue wellies and swap our coats for those dun coloured stockman's coats, marked on the back with the word 'gantry' and were led up a flight of galvanised steps.

You guessed it, we were bound for the gantry, which runs the length of the shed, interspersed at intervals with lights, fans and speakers - for the radio of course. Below us in the gloom there emerged a group of cattle. I could see three, two standing and one sitting, and it was plain, even from the strange perspective I had, that they were considerably bigger than the beasts I have been used to seeing in the fields of Shropshire. Later, we were able to get a little closer to some other animals, which have been contained in slightly less barbaric conditions for over 10 years, and - let me tell you - these were monstrous mothers! With not much exercise and no slaughter, they are similar to fish in that they just continue to grow (though not to an infinite size) and end up developing problems with their joints, which are no longer able to support the enormous weight of their carcasses.
But back to the shed. There were actually four stalls in all, three contained three cattle each and the last, three sheep - infected, we were told, with low level doses of scrapie, in order to test the theory of scrapie causing BSE. As we walked along and the scientist told us what this crazy place was all about, I felt as though I was in a David Lynch movie, my feet squeezed into wellies that were too small for me, hands in the pockets of my stockman's coat, staring down at the morose giants below who trudged around in their own shit, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, listening to Heart FM. Mighty depressing, I can assure you, though others on the tour did not seem to share my view. Maybe I'm just a big softie.


EP said...

I KNEW it!!


Myeral said...

I've seen that pic, with a caption reading: 'This man has a giant cock'. I think it says a lot about me that I thought it was hilarious.