This autumn’s trial of SAC’s Caseous Lymphadenitis (CLA) monitoring scheme at two ram sales has been a success, with more than 1600 sheep consigned for the Kelso and Lairg ram sales certified.

SAC St Boswells vet investigation officer Graham Baird says the pilot scheme offered to vendors at these sales tested 62 groups of rams.

Many vendors were keen to add value to stock by certifying them CLA free.

“Response to the monitoring scheme from buyers has been positive.

Many at Lairg in particular were looking for sheep certified CLA free,” he adds.

“At last year’s sale there was an element of panic among buyers trying to avoid the disease.

The monitoring scheme definitely gave buyers extra confidence.”

Mr Baird is unsure whether vendors of monitored rams were rewarded by higher prices, but as more commercial buyers become aware of the disease, he believes a price differential may appear.

However, while 1600 rams were certified as CLA monitored, some samples yielded positive results, meaning rams from those groups couldn’t gain approval.

Alnwick, Northumberland-based ram vendor John Campbell sold CLA free certified Suffolk shearling rams at Kelso last month and believes the expense was more than justifiable.

While Mr Campbell reckons testing cost about 10 a ram, he believes it was worth it to reassure buyers that rams were CLA free.

“I sold a number of rams to customers who would not have bought them without monitored status.”

In time, he suggests the monitoring scheme should become a useful selling point for flocks.

“What we need is for breed societies to get behind the test and introduce it at breed society sales, to add momentum to eradicating CLA.”

When buying rams himself in future, Mr Campbell says he will be looking to buy monitored rams if they are available.

Mr Baird hopes the monitoring scheme may go nationwide, possibly as part of the Sheep and Goat Health Scheme.

However, there is some resistance to it.

“There are breeders who are holding out for a vaccine to be licensed for use in the UK, but I can’t see a vaccine being licensed here for at least five years.”

One problem in offering the scheme on a wider scale would be ensuring effective isolation of sheep being monitored, particularly when the sales season runs from July to November, believes Mr Baird.

“There will be lambs offered at the July sales which would be difficult to isolate for the 12 week gap between the two tests the scheme requires if they were still running with their mothers.”

jonathan.long@rbi.co.uk