It's good to see a new kind of pin-up in the press, and it certainly makes a change from Jordan and Pete Burns (can anyone tell them apart?). But surely the most appealing picture in recent weeks was that gorgeous Mous'l Fern, a five-month-old black bull-calf, who faces execution under the Government's tough new policy for dealing with bovine tuberculosis. Mous'l Fern may sound like a rapper, the Li'l Kim of the beef world, but he is in fact the youngest member of a highly prized rare Dexter breed of cattle, noted for their curly coats, short stature and fine meat, the toast of restaurateurs all over Britain.
Fern's owner, Mrs Sheilagh Kremers, has declared she'd rather go to jail than see the animal culled and said: "He's not very happy about it. He's within shouting distance of his mother and they are calling out to each other. I am determined that they should not take away my calf." She faces six months in jail and a £5,000 fine.
Fern was the only one of Mrs Kremers' Dexter herd that reacted negatively to a skin-test for TB, which means he has come into contact with the bacteria that cause bovine TB. The National Farmers' Union is backing her plea to have the animal retested. The Government has decided to cull all cattle that may be infected with TB, but not all badgers that spread it. Sadly, no one will know if Mous'l Fern is infected until a post-mortem examination.
You may be surprised at my interest in things rural. It's a little-known fact that the only union I belong to is the Farmers' Union. I joined a decade ago, when I drove a Discovery and was eligible for cheap car insurance. Although I got rid of the gas-guzzler years ago, I've kept up my NFU membership and I am rewarded with a monthly magazine, which tells me all about which slurry store to choose and how to save red squirrels.
The great badger debate has been exercising country-lovers for a long time, and it's one of the top 10 topics in The Daily Telegraph letters. Last month, the Government decided to slaughter badgers in areas badly affected by bovine TB, causing outrage amongst animal lovers.
Ben Bradshaw, the Animal Welfare minister, is going to have to have nerves of steel to deal with the impending war when the cull starts, perhaps as soon as June. But 80 per cent of the infection is spread from cattle to cattle, so farmers are going to have to test herds, although the tests are only between 77 per cent and 95 per cent accurate, hence Mrs Kremers' anguish over Mous'l Fern.
One farmer said five of his cattle tested positive for TB and were slaughtered but only one was found to have the disease. If one of a herd tests positive, farmers have to have all their animals retested every two months until all the results are negative; not an easy job. The Government expects the farmers to kill badgers in the affected areas using carbon monoxide from their tractor exhausts. Animal rights activists are planning a legal challenge to the cull. Just to finally convince you there's a certain lack of joined up-government at work here, we are told 60 skilled badger-trappers are to be laid off by Defra.
If Mr Bradshaw caves in to the animal lobby who want to protect cute badgers, expect more farmers to refuse to co-operate with testing. There will be no final decision on the badger cull until the end of the public consultation on 10 March. This is another of those rural issues, like foxhunting, that Mr Blair's government finds so difficult to deal with.
Three cheers for Gordon, the celebrity butcher
Even Woman's Hour has gone animal crazy, with a wonderful item last week about the joys of pig farming, including full sound effects of a herd of Tamworths grunting with joy as feeding time approached. We were treated to plenty of colourful description about their cute little feet and intelligent natures - they sounded more like a bevy of catwalk models than a dozen hairy beasts who like to roll in mud. Sadly, the story ended up with a hearty fry-up of pork bangers in the farmhouse - I'm sure the animal rights people will be demanding a right of reply. Meanwhile, Porky and Bess, the two pigs who starred in Coronation Street, have been spared the fate that awaits Mous'l Fern.
After their stint on the show ended they were sent to a children's farm, which then announced that the pair were heading for the local butchers. After being swamped with offers of a home from the public, the farm owners announced that Porky and Bess have been reprieved, and will spend the rest of their lives happily bathing in mud. Yet another example of how the British love a bacon sandwich, adore sausage and mash, but regard any pig that makes the press as a cute potential pet.
When Gordon Ramsay slaughtered and plucked his turkeys in front of the cameras on The F-Word before Christmas, I got up from the sofa and cheered! At last, the unvarnished, unsentimental bare truth about what we eat - but I bet the next week Gordon's postbag was packed with whingeing twaddle from animal lovers.
Brutal cuts #1: Closing country post offices will kill villages
As a new boss takes over at the Royal Mail, his first big battle will be over the £150m subsidy the Government hands it to support rural post offices. The Treasury is said to want to a drastic cut in this payment, due to end in 2008. The Post Office has announced it will be looking at ways of scaling down its commitment to people who live in rural areas, and investigating other ways of providing a service. The Government recently announced a link-up with Tesco to sell National Savings products in its stores, so you don't need a crystal ball to predict which way the wind is blowing. But rural post offices are the lifeblood of small communities all over the country. What we don't need are more branches of bloody Tesco. Once a post office closes, there is ample evidence that a village becomes a dormitory, full of the elderly and the housebound. Cutting the subsidy would be another big rural blunder by Mr Blair.
Brutal cuts #2: 'Sweeney Todd' put me right off my casserole
My post-Christmas diet was kick started in a novel way, by tuning in to the excellent BBC dramatisation of Sweeney Todd, starring Ray Winstone, above, in fine form. After he'd slaughtered about six people by quietly and methodically slicing their throats, I couldn't face the rest of my ham and turkey casserole. Perhaps it should be on DVD as a slimming aid.Reuse content