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Saturday, 24 March, 2001, 11:26 GMT
Bulls sealed in 'disease-proof' barn
Sealed barn
The Duke's barn is sealed up against the outside world
The Duke of Westminster, Britain's richest man, has shut his beloved herd of prize bulls into an airtight barn along with a vet and a farmworker to avoid foot-and-mouth disease.

Dr Alex Maute and studman Will Roberts are tending the 140 Holstein bulls on the Grosvenor estate near Chester, in a specially created sealed barn, measuring 250ft by 400ft, with air pumped in by way of a virus filter.

Breeding company Cogent introduced the Big Brother-like measures last week in the hope it would make the bulls exempt from slaughter should exclusion zones be extended.

Fourteen miles is too close for comfort. This way we are stopping any windborne infection or transfer by birds

Tim Heywood
Cogent MD

The Holstein bulls, which are extremely valuable, are used to produce semen for breeding programmes in the UK, and for export to the US, Australia and Europe.

The Grosvenor estate is about 14 miles away from an infected foot-and-mouth area.

Cogent managing director Tim Heywood told BBC News Online: "Fourteen miles is too close for comfort. This way we are stopping any windborne infection or transfer by birds."

He said the vet and the studman, who have been joined by the studman's girlfriend, are in "excellent heart and spirit".

They are getting regular deliveries of food, fresh clothing and a few home comforts, including some beer.

The only exterior air allowed to enter the specially modified barn is being pumped in through Ministry of Agriculture-approved filters which are constantly monitored.

Holstein bulls
Splendid isolation: The bulls in their pens

Mr Heywood said the self-imposed exile may have to last for several weeks, but those people within the air-tight barn could be replaced by a new team.

He believes the government had managed the foot-and-mouth crisis well initially but now regards resources as being over-stretched.

He said: "The vets are like a peace-time army coping with what is now a wartime situation.

"It has turned into a major logistical exercise and the introduction of British troops can go some way to helping the situation."

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See also:

22 Mar 01 | Scotland
Slaughter moves to Dumfriesshire
02 Mar 01 | Northern Ireland
Moves to stop spread of disease
23 Mar 01 | Education
Disease crisis hits exams
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Ten days for election decision - Blair
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