Lynne and Duncan Barr are happy it's spring, there are calves to feed and work to be done on their dairy farm at Ealing, in Mid Canterbury.

They say it's nice to be able to go about the business of farming again and be back in control after a particularly tough, and emotional, year.

It began in late April 2018 when they identified potential Mycoplasma bovis trace animals on their Brogdens Rd run-off block, at Lowcliffe.

The block was one of three properties with stock they farmed.

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The other two were their home dairy farm at Old Main South Rd, Ealing, milking around 675 cows, and a lease block on Coldstream Rd.

M. bovis was making itself widely known nationwide since being found in July 2017, and the Barrs had bought calves in 2017, from a farm which they found out had tested positive for M. bovis.

They went into voluntary lockdown of their run-off block where the calves had been kept.

Then came the nationwide call for ''phased eradication of M. bovis from the national herd''.

By mid-May they had heard from Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) regarding ''three trace animals of interest'' from an M. bovis-positive farm from within Mid Canterbury. It was a different property to their initial concern. It was the start of months of blood sample testing and nasal swabs of stock.

In the days and months that followed, Lynne and Duncan were battered by the process.

On June 25 the Barrs were served with a Notice of Direction (NOD); the appointment of an Incident Control Point (ICP) field staffer did not help.

The NOD included the Brogdens Rd property (82ha), the dairy farm at Old Main South Rd (171ha) and the lease block (42ha).

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''The dairy farm was always clear,'' Duncan says, but the stress of the unknown put added pressure on dairy farm staff who were part of the collateral damage.

It's been a long, drawn-out period that has affected them both, but in different ways.

DEALING WITH BOVIS

Duncan, forced to battle bureaucracy and, at times, nonsensical madness, did it the only way he knew how.

He questioned the process, and he wrote about it, so he could understand it.

Often he got conflicting messages, seemingly answered on the fly, without substance. The frustration was consuming him.

Early-morning texts, evening texts, last-minute ''audits'', conflicting information including about disinfecting vehicles, and the need for multi-movement permits for people on farm, threats of up to $50,000 fines or jail time for non-compliance; all-consuming and frightening.

Lynne just kept going, supporting Duncan, trying to lift his spirits and keep the home fires burning.

CONFUSION REIGNS

It was ''the chopping and changing of what they want'' and just turning up with significantly different plans to what I was informed about,'' which irritated Duncan most in the early days.

And, as now, the length of time to trace animals to prevent reinfection happening nationwide, and the lack of communication.

On September 7, after months of testing, the Barrs had their NOD revoked.

But by October 15, it was reinstated due to results from round three testing with ''three animals of interest''.

Duncan says this was the ''freight train moment''. It was starting to bear down on him.

And so it continued; further testing.

The culmination of the process was the culling of 450 young animals in January this year.

It was done to be done in batches, with some heading for pet food and the remainder to Alliance.

The animals were made up of calves (140), 2-year heifers (130) and beefy bulls (180).

In total, young stock worth around half a million dollars, with an additional compensation claim for $150,000 of operational costs such as buying feed, hiring equipment or making baleage.

DEPOPULATION

On January 16 the '' first load of calves gone, bloody distressing seeing a year's genetics go to dog food,'' Duncan wrote.

By January 30 the final lot of planned calves were sent to slaughter for pet food.

The remainder were due to go to Alliance, but there was a minimum weight requirement.

It was the first he'd heard of it, three days out from depopulation.

''My ICP had been at the weigh session and seen the weights of all these animals ... why was this issue not raised earlier?''

''A major issue with this delay is actually emotional distress, you go through all this rigmarole and just when you think you are there, MPI drop something else on you!''

The delay caused flow-on effects with an additional two weeks of grazing costs and a delay in getting the land ready for sale.

''Again, just simple open communication, and all this could have been avoided.''

Two weeks later, they were finally gone; some to Alliance others to pet food.

COUNSELLING CONUNDRUM

The cull was the final straw for Duncan.

''That's what really did my head in'', the ''mental anguish'' right up to depopulation with ''your brain going all day and all night, (receiving) no information''.

''Nothing has changed in 12 months ... mental anguish is still going on,'' he says.

He took up the offer of three counselling sessions.

''I wanted to know my thought processes were clear.''

MPI will continue to pay for needed sessions after the initial three, but wants to know who is accessing them, Duncan says.

He questions the ethics of this and, by withholding payments to counsellors, believes the counsellors have become collateral damage, too.

SUPPORT ON HAND

At the beginning support for farmers like the Barr's, was non-existent.

But Rural Support Trust (RST) Mid Canterbury knew farmers in the district were suffering.

In late August, Angela Cushnie made contact. She had been appointed as RST Mid Canterbury welfare co-ordinator for M. bovis response.

When she arrived, Duncan says his heckles were already up dealing with ministry staff who did not understand farming.

Duncan had no previous knowledge of RST's work, but knew Angela who lives locally, near Hinds.

She was the first person to let them know ''we were not the only ones with the problem''.

It was like a weight was lifted, and one of the reasons Duncan, along with Angela and fellow South Canterbury RST's Sarah Barr (no relation) and others, set up the M. bovis Affected Farmers Facebook page.

It was to let people going through the process know they were not alone, a space to talk and ask questions.

SOLDIERING ON

Lynne was especially grateful for the support of those from RST Mid Canterbury who organised an M. bovis support network event, just for farming women.

It was a day off the farm, talking to other women going through the same process, which was beneficial.

''Rural Support Trust Mid Canterbury are wonderful people.''

She admits now throughout the whole process she has just soldiered on with no other outlet. And Duncan knows why he took the process to heart so badly.

''It's 24/7, and so encompassing. It's such an unjust process,'' he says.

''They say they want to work with you but it's an endless pit with no information forthcoming''.

''Once depopulation happens it's almost like getting your life back, and for a time it helped.

''It's horrible to go through,'' Duncan says, but acknowledges they were among the lucky few with minimal financial loss; their dairy farm was not affected and only young replacement stock were culled.

Just last week they received their latest compensation payment, five months after it was submitted.

Duncan is keen to help others going through the process and, as he is not milking, he now has the time.

Where to get help:
Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.