Fifty-six percent of rare breed sheep and goat farmers expect to give up within the next three years, a Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) survey said.

Although bluetongue was the most commonly cited factor, 32% also blamed EID. Bureaucracy in general bothered 34%.

Most rare breed farmers have small flocks, some keeping 10 or 12 animals as a hobby. Many are remote hill farmers, keeping farming pedigrees which could not survive elsewhere.

The electronic readers readers cost €300 + VAT, irrespective of farm size. DEFRA estimates average overheads of £3.24 per ewe – more for small farmers – which will dent already thin margins.

The technology has been shown to struggle in remote locations.

RBST chairman Peter Titley warned that it is not only the animals that are endangered, but the skilled, committed farmers who keep them.

The RBST said they would like to see a derogation for flocks with fewer than 50 breeding ewes or nannies. They pointed out that EU member states with fewer than 600,000 sheep and goats are already exempt.