A FARMER suffering from Parkinson’s disease has revealed he is more worried about bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle than his own illness.
Ron Smith, who was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition in 2008, said he finds the amount of work that goes into TB testing annoys him more than Parkinson’s.
“There are so many checks and so many rules,” said the 62 year-old from Goytre.
“It’s quite costly and I receive letter after letter. If you get an inconclusive result from testing, you can’t sell your cattle. It gets on my nerves more than the Parkinson’s.”
The veteran farmer and his wife Elizabeth, 64, have lived on Llan Farm in Goytre since 1987 after moving to rural Monmouthshire from Somerset.
Prior to the onset of Parkinson’s, Mr Smith was a cattle foot trimmer for 25 years – which involved handling, inspecting and trimming cow hooves to prevent lameness.
“That’s when I first noticed the symptoms,” he explained.
“It’s a physically demanding and potentially dangerous job, requiring a lot of skill, strength and agility.
“I used to do more than 20 cows a day before slowing down to just six.
“There was also the dribbling, which seemed strange for an adult! I thought it was something to do with my teeth but I went to see the dentist and was given the all-clear.”
His wife of 40 years also remembers seeing some changes.
“Ron’s speech was slurred,” recalled Mrs Smith, a retired science lecturer at Coleg Gwent.
“Our neighbour asked me if Ron was ill and said he thought he’d had a stroke. I started to wonder if it might be neurological.
“So I went to Usk Library and found a little book on Parkinson’s. I read it and thought “that’s it. He’s got classic symptoms”.
“I came home and told Ron he needed to go to the doctor.”
It was therefore no surprise to the couple when Parkinson’s was confirmed by a specialist.
Since his diagnosis, Mr Smith has given up foot trimming because of safety reasons, sold all the winter-calving cows and bought a small, vintage Massey Ferguson 135 tractor to help him get around the 80-acre farm easily. Yet despite having to make adjustments to his way of life, he has absolutely no intention of quitting farming.
Mr and Mrs Smith still keep cows, pedigree ryeland sheep and rare saddleback pigs, which they breed and then sell at auction. They have also gone back to making hay with traditional meadows and no fertiliser, instead of silage which is heavy to move.
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m not going to give in,” said Mr Smith.
“The mornings are the most difficult for me as I can barely move. I take my tablets at 8am and then wait an hour and a half for them to kick-in. It’s normally a bit of shuffling and a few baby steps to start with until I can walk well.
“I’m not in any pain but I do get really exhausted and my reactions aren’t as quick as they used to be.
“You have to be careful with cattle because they can charge – they are protecting their young. Sometimes I freeze and can’t dodge out of the way as my legs lock, but on most days it’s not too bad.
“I’ve been working since I was 16 and I’m still relatively fit. I may look a bit feeble but my brain is still there. Before the Parkinson’s I hadn’t been to the doctor for about 15 years.”
Although she has concerns about his wellbeing, Mrs Smith is extremely proud of her husband, who she met at the Monmouthshire College of Agriculture (now Coleg Gwent) at the Rhadyr in Usk.
“Ron is too stubborn to stop doing things and I do worry about him,” she said.
“Living with Parkinson’s can be challenging and he puts himself in danger when he shouldn’t. The situation is stressful but Ron is very good with the cattle and sells just as well as an able-bodied person.
“There are no concessions for him. It’s a real achievement and I am incredibly proud. Ron never complains and we just surmount any problems, together, as they arrive.
“I think the farm will give us up before we give it up.”
Monmouth MP David Davies visited Llan Farm on Wednesday (2nd September) to meet Mr and Mrs Smith and learn more about Parkinson’s.
He stepped in to help the couple last year after Mr Smith’s claim for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) was delayed.
“It was inspirational to meet Ron and to hear about the way he is fighting this condition while carrying on farming pigs, sheep and cattle,” said Mr Davies.
“One person in every 500 has Parkinson’s disease. That’s about 127,000 people in the UK. It’s important we continue to support research into finding better treatments and ways to improve the quality of life for patients.
“What did strike me most about Ron was despite the problems he has with rigidity and slowness of movement, he described the situation with TB as an even bigger hindrance to his ability to farm the land.
“Obviously, getting to grips with this crisis should be an absolute priority for the UK and Welsh governments.”
For more information about Parkinson’s disease, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk