A cycle of bovine TB breakdowns has resulted in the wholesale slaughter of all cattle on a Pembrokeshire farm.

The Williams family were down to their last 228 animals at Home Farm, Leweston, after losing a percentage of the herd at each test since March 2020.

All those animals, aged from three days to 15 years, were slaughtered after the Welsh government approved an application by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to depopulate the farm of all bovines, ten years after the Willhome herd won Supreme Dairy Champion at the Royal Welsh Show.

“Although it was a tough phone call to receive, it was a light at the end of the tunnel because the economics of replacing animals lost at each test didn’t stack up,’’ says Stuart Williams.

“Our milk cheque was a quarter of what it had been and when we lost any of the stock we had bought in to TB we were only getting half their value in compensation, we just couldn’t keep going.’’

But the emotional and financial pain is acute.

“It has crucified us,’’ he admits. “I have had to have mental health counselling and am taking medication to help me through this.

“I think it was slowly building from the start of the breakdown, so I distanced myself from the situation by not using the cows’ names and not taking an interest in their history.’’

But the breaking point was day of the valuation, when he paraded the stock before the two valuers in a ‘show ring’ mocked up at the farm, a format he was used to after years of exhibiting the herd at shows.

“The next morning they were loaded onto lorries and driven away and with that I just melted,’’ says Mr Williams.

“I know Dad is in the same position, it’s all he has ever worked for and known, so I am worried for him and others farmers in that generation or those who are isolated and who don’t get help.’’

The business does hope to restock in the future because a survey carried out by the government last month showed no evidence of badgers active on the farm, and it will restock with Ayrshires, Brown Swiss and Holsteins, the breeds that made up their award-winning herd.

But for now the income will come from their pig herd and a farm park diversification that opens this month.

“It puts us under pressure financially because the dairy herd was always our bread and butter, every else was just an extra on top of that,’’ says Mr Williams.

Readjusting to the loss of the herd will take time – all the family wake without the need of an alarm clock for what would have been the morning milking.

“We still go out to the yard at the time, to get all the jobs done, it is all we have ever known, but the yards are now empty, and no rattling gates or sound at all.’’