28 February 1997

Beware: Dutch freemartins are at large in UK

By Jessica Buss

PRODUCERS considering buying in dairy replacements from abroad are urged to proceed with caution after the discovery that infertile freemartin heifers have been exported from Holland to the UK.

One north Wales producer found six of a batch of 11 heifer calves he bought were freemartins, according to the Liverpool vet school practices Richard Murray.

A second producer in Cheshire is reported to have had eight freemartins in one batch of heifers.

The National Cattle Associations Roland Kershaw-Dalby also admits that in occasional cases, when heifers have been purchased from dealers, a high proportion of freemartins has been found.

In the Welsh case, Dr Murray says, it appears that a Dutch dealer bought the animals from veal rearing units and sold them onto a UK dealer.

The Dutch system requires all calves to be registered. Breeders, knowing freemartins are valueless, sell them for meat.

Dr Murray suggests the dealer in question identified the freemartin heifers and applied to the breed society for their certificates.

The calves had different breeders in Holland, but had one owner in common who had registered them for import to the UK.

"This owner was aiming to sell the freemartins to UK dealers for a profit," says Dr Murray. "The UK dealer then sold them on without knowing they were freemartins."

The Dutch dealer has since disappeared leaving the UK dealer to accept responsibility and compensate the UK producer. However the producer hasnt been compensated for 18 months rearing costs and the subsequent milk loss.

"The dutch breed society must ensure that only suitable breeding animals are registered," says Dr Murray.

"There is no safety net when heifer twins to bulls are computer registered and those documents give them a passport for export." An animals certification should move with the calf and details of any twin included to prevent this happening, he added.

Mr Kershaw-Dalby advises producers choosing to buy bulling heifers abroad to contact known reputable dealers or agents.

"When you are aiming to buy 20 or 30 heifers go and look for yourself," says Mr Kershaw-Dalby. "See the animals on their home farms rather than on dealers premises and talk to the breeders.

"If unsure about the heifers ask the vendor to have their reproductive organs examined by a vet."