Northern Ireland agriculture has won for itself an enviable place among the most disease-free countries in the world. But the battle against disease must be continued with growing intensity if the present position is to be improved still further.
In this respect the record – and policy – of a well known County Armagh dairy unit throws up many interesting features.
The Carrickblacker (near Portadown) herd of Mr A M Nicholson continues to maintain that virtually trouble free reputation which it has enjoyed since its foundation in 1947.
Today the milking herd stands at 60 plus with a similar number of followers and from the hundreds of animals reared during this 22 years period there have been only two TB reactors while there has never been a case of brucellosis infection.
True there have been the normal casualties and ailments – mastitis remains “a bit of a nuisance” – but so far Carrickblacker has escaped anything approaching even a minor breakdown from the more serious diseases.
What is the secret behind such an impressive health record?
Mr Nicholson, farm manager Mr G Paton and stockman Mr V Shier give a simple recipe: “The unit is completely self contained; there have been no outside purchases into the herd since its foundation except for a few stock bulls and no animal has ever returned to Carrickblacker after appearing at a show or sale. ‘No admission, no return’ is the slogan.”
The highest standards of management – with particular reference to hygiene – are maintained at the Carrickblacker holding while the individual attention given to each animal is everywhere in evidence.
And yet it is ironic that, in a way, the whole enterprise has developed more by accident than design.
“A hobby which has grown in spite of itself” was Mr Nicholson’s description of his venture into farming. When Belfast born Mr Nicholson and his family moved out of Belfast to Carrickblacker during the war years he had no serious plans for making a major contribution to the agricultureal scene – he had no experience of farming while his business commitments were too great.
The purchase of a few in-calf heifers was regarded as a little more than “a bit of a hobby from which nothing much would come”.
But today Carrick-blacker farm with its pedigree Ayrshire herd and followers has etched out for itself a respected place not only in the records of the breed to which full allegiance has been given but in “milk” circles generally.