Dont rush to make any restocking decisions
By Marianne Curtis
WHEN they receive the go-ahead, many farms culled because of foot-and-mouth may rush to restock. However, future business success, animal health and stock quality could all benefit from a slower, more carefully thought out approach, believe experts.
Few of Cumbria-based Promar dairy consultant Stuart MacLennans 30 clients who have lost stock expect to quit farming. But he is encouraging them to think long and hard about personal and business objectives.
"Consider business health, age of people employed and their health. Some are considering reducing stocking levels, hoping for a better quality of life, but this may not be economic because commodity prices have changed little.
"Be honest about how much you need to live on and re-investment requirements. Will you produce a commodity or enter niche markets? Is there an opportunity to link livestock production with environment and tourism which form a large part of the governments focus?"
Investing compensation payments wisely, income from disinfecting premises and IACS payments, where available, will help see businesses through this year. Valuable income and a broadening of business skills may also come from taking on temporary work, believes Mr MacLennan.
"Working in tourism or other rural businesses brings greater awareness of what is happening in the wider world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to consider your businesss future direction from the widest possible angle."
A fear of stock shortages may lie behind some producers desire to restock quickly, but there may be more dairy cows available than believed, says Mr MacLennan. "Dispersal sales have been delayed by producers hoping for better prices as restocking begins."
However, a suckler cow shortage is a real possibility, which could threaten quality in the short term, believes MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar. "Getting something, such as a dairy cross Continental heifer probably wont be a big deal. But conformation and durability of these animals is a worry.
"Many will be used to fill short-term quota requirements, but this should be seen as an interim stage, followed through by a move towards more economically sound cow types."
With 5-10% of pedigree sheep flocks lost, obtaining quality animals for restocking pedigree units could be a problem, according to James Mylne, director of Dalkeith-based sheep breeding company Britbreed.
"There is an opportunity for breeders restocking to breed better quality stock, however, breeders surviving the crisis are obviously reluctant to let their best stock go. Forward planning is also tricky, as it is unclear when restocking will be allowed."
With this in mind, the company is planning to launch a service called Gene Bureau. This will involve implanting embryos, formed from top bloodlines in recipient ewes which will move to culled farms as soon as restrictions are lifted, explains Mr Mylne. "This means producers restocking could have pedigree ram and ewe lambs available for sale next year."
However, finding sufficient recipient ewes, which have been tested for maedi visna, scrapie and enzootic abortion, could be a problem, he admits. "They are scarce, so we may have to use once tested ewes.
"There must be a six-month period before a second test, necessary for full accreditation, which may present a remote risk."
Pedigree or not, checking health status of replacement animals before purchase is a wise investment, says Carlisle-based vet Graham Brooks. "Avoid buying herds or flocks without knowing anything about their health status. It would be disastrous to take delivery of a herd with TB reactors which subsequently had to be culled."
Having cows screened for TB, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) and bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) and treated for leptospirosis will cost about £30/cow, says Mr Brooks. "Animals persistently infected with BVD can easily be removed before purchase."
Pedigree breeders should be particularly careful, he warns. "It may be possible to export high health status pedigree animals in future, so it will pay to get on top of diseases at an early stage."
Sheep producers restocking should check for enzootic abortion, toxoplasmosis, maedi visna and scrapie, he advises. "In addition, as soon as sheep arrive, treat for resistant worms and scab." *
• Dont rush.
• Establish business direction.
• Check animal quality and health.