Interactions between cattle and badgers at pasture with reference to bovine tuberculosis transmission.


The normal behaviour of badgers, as described here, would not result in direct transmission of tuberculosis from badgers to cattle via air expired by badgers or via bodily contact. All activities of wild badgers in cattle fields at three different sites were observed at night for a total of 359 h. In addition, all activities of pairs of wild caught badgers were observed in a 0.5 ha enclosure with an artificial sett on 20 nights when cattle were present. Badger foraging in cattle fields was infrequent during dry conditions and variable at other times. Clover fields were preferred to grass pastures in two autumnal studies and under dry conditions the badgers did not prefer to forage on short pasture. Badgers consistently avoided close contact with cattle by changing routes from sett to foraging site and by foraging much less in areas of fields occupied by cattle. When foraging they preferred to remain at least 10-15 m from cattle and they avoided compact groups of cattle more than individuals. Some cattle would move towards badgers, especially if they were carrying out unusual behaviour, but badgers fled rapidly from every approach. In all potential encounters badgers were able to keep at least 2-3 m from approaching cattle. Badgers in the artificial sett delayed entering the enclosure if cattle were within 15 m of the entrance. When cattle were managed on a strip-grazing (rotational) system the whole area which they occupied was avoided by the badgers. However, badgers came closer to individual cattle and foraged in areas grazed by the cattle more if the cattle were set-stocked. If cattle are managed so that they are concentrated in a small area (rotational) system the risk of disease transmission is minimized because they are less likely to encounter badgers or their fresh products than are cattle managed on a large area (set-stocked) system.