26 October 2001

F&M cause of sheep shortage

SHEEP marts could face a severe shortage of Swaledale and Bluefaced Leicester breeding stock for five to six years as a result of foot-and-mouth.

This will have serious consequences for the countrys principal breeding ewe, the North of England Mule, which is bred by the Swaledale and Bluefaced Leicester combination.

Jason Barley, president of the Sheep Veterinary Society, told this weeks meeting of the National Office of Animal Health that F&M hit the Bluefaced Leicester and Swaledale sheep populations "irrevocably hard" and could not have come at a more devastating time.

There were two main reasons why this has been such a devastating blow to the industry, he said. "Firstly, farmers were moving a lot of sheep for management reasons and, secondly, because many hill breeding sheep were away from home they were badly placed for the F&M outbreak.

Mr Barley said the disease had struck at the heart of Mule breeding areas and a shortage of replacement stock was now inevitable.

The impact of such losses will be felt for many years, especially at markets such as Lazonby, Kirkby Stephen and Hawes, where thousands were sold over the principal trading period.

"We have about five or six years before we can start to reconstruct these core breeding flocks and for them to reach the same level of production that we need to maintain Mule breeding flocks across the country.

"It is a problem in the north-west, but it will affect other areas of the country too," he said. Losing a high number of Mule breeding flocks would also have other affects on the breeds future, such as developing scrapie resistance.

Selecting resistant genotypes for the National Scrapie Plan has been thrown into jeopardy, he explained. "Just how many genotypes are going to be left?

"In parts of the country we are in negative sheep equity. We have suffered huge losses through culls directly associated with F&M, culls on infected premises, sheep slaughtered on suspicion of the disease and latterly the contiguous cull."

The death toll and loss of genotypes has been compounded by the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme, which he added had attracted many breeding ewes and ewe lambs in March, April and May, when farmers had sheep away from their main holdings that ran out of keep, he added. &#42