17 August 2001

Cattle movement decision vital to save autumn £s

By James Garner

FARMERS are set to lose thousands of £s this autumn in lost store cattle and suckled calf sales unless the government takes action to avert the impending crisis.

Over 1m cattle movements take place in October alone, according to the British Cattle Movement Scheme data. Another 1m movements took place in August and September last year, so this is a crucial phase and a decision from vets on what animals can be shifted is needed urgently, says the NFU.

Not all of these movements are from suckled calves and store cattle sales, but rough estimates suggest about 800,000 stores and calves are caught on their farm of birth. With forage running short and accommodation becoming tight, fears of another welfare crisis are rising.

"We need to know from DEFRA what animals can be moved," says Kevin Pearce, NFU livestock adviser. "Then we must assess what stock – both sheep and cattle – are left on farm."

Gethin Havard, suckled calf producer at Sennybridge in Wales, and chairman of Brecon and Radnor suckled calf rearers, says he is facing big losses. "I have calculated that if I sell suckled calves to the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme I will lose £10,000 and there are few other options on a hill farm.

"I have limited accommodation, no cereals and no straw. I need to house cows in October, so I do not want suckled calves about beyond that."

But he believes moving stock from infected areas would be irresponsible. "Our priority has to be to get rid of this disease." Instead, he feels he should be fairly compensated. "Last year I sold heifer calves to an average of 119p/kg. They are worth 65p/kg under LWDS, and this is capped to £360 an animal."

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, believes licensing and transport regulations cant cope with the sheer number of movements needed.

The 20-day standstill further inhibits movements, as a finisher, with one holding, will only realistically be able to make two purchases during September and October.

"It is not going to work," says Mr Forster. "So, if you cant move the animals to the forage, then move the forage to the animals."

He suggests DEFRA buys 2t of hay for every breeding cow or feeding bullock and helps co-ordinate shifting forage to farms.

"The Treasury should be delighted at the saving it could make by paying just £140 for hay, instead of £700 or more to put stock through LWDS."

Mr Pearce says there will not be one single solution. "Taking feed to the animal will be part of the answer, but it wont help those who cant house stock over winter." &#42