8 June 2001

F&M CRISIS OFFERS CHANCE TO IMPROVE NATIONS HERD HEALTH

One of the first pedigree

Holstein herds in Cumbria

to be hit by foot-and-mouth

was the Wolfa herd owned

by HUKI chairman

Mike Armstrong. He talked

to Jeremy Hunt about his

vision for the future

DURING a phone call from a friend on the day his prized Wolfa herd went down with F&M, Mike Armstrong was told that out of every disaster comes opportunity. Its something he will never forget.

"Like everyone else who has suffered in this terrible crisis, its a day that will live with me forever. But the message contained in that phone call left a lasting impression," says Mr Armstrong.

"Now, as we all start to look ahead, we must concentrate on the future and grasp the opportunity to go forward."

He believes there are several opportunities open to all dairy producers. "We must try to improve the health status of the national herd. There are several breeders who have already achieved high health status and while Im not suggesting that we all aim for such a high level, we must try to make national herd health a priority."

Confident mood

Mr Armstrong recalls the confident mood that prevailed at the National Holstein Show, only days before the first rumblings of F&M.

"There was growing confidence among breeders and a feeling that we were on the verge of real progress on semen and even cattle exports.

"But we were all aware that re-gaining any export trade relied upon meeting the health status of importing countries. Now we have the opportunity to do that."

But Mr Armstrong recognises achieving a higher level of health status for the national herd will not be easy. A major scheme would have to be introduced to cover diseases such as leptospirosis, BVD and Johnes disease.

"There are many practical problems involved in achieving this on a herd basis, but to get back into the world market and remove the stigma of F&M we must prove that we are cleaner than clean."

And his concerns are not restricted to dairy cattle. "The outstanding pool of genetics across all livestock breeds in the UK is a tremendous resource that the industry must actively seek to promote internationally.

"Achieving such a high calibre genetic pool has been costly. We now need to look to a much broader customer base to recoup this investment and to regain a stable and profitable pedigree livestock sector for the UK."

Import reliance

Having come through the devastating effects of F&M, Mr Armstrong is concerned that efforts to re-build confidence in UK pedigree cattle must not be undermined by short-term decisions to rely heavily on imports as replacement stock.

He fears that many producers hit by F&M – most of them unlikely to get back into milk production before early 2002 – are panicking to order cattle from Europe.

"I honestly believe there will be many good cattle available in the UK in the coming months. There were plenty of producers preparing to quit this year before the F&M outbreak and they are still waiting to sell.

"But those who are considering buying from Europe should go and have a look first. Inspect some herds, look at genetics, production and health and get a feel for what you will have to deal with at home."

For dairy producers hit by F&M, time is the one thing they have plenty of and Mr Armstrong urges them to use it to their advantage.

"Having time is another opportunity dairy producers have not had in the past. We have paid a high price for it, but if we use it wisely Im sure it will lay the foundations for a better future."

Some producers believe herd expansion is the only way to maintain any long-term profit from milk. But Mr Armstrong believes the opportunity to re-assess the whole farm business could allow some family farms to milk fewer cows and do it better, resulting in higher profits.

"Do you really want a huge number of cows and the cost of buying more quota? Or is this an opportunity to change your management methods, become less intensive and try to improve output from a smaller number of high performance cows?

No hurry

"These are options that need looking at and discussing. Nothing should be done in a hurry."

The new HUKI web-site (www.holstein-uki.org) is providing a list of Holstein cattle available from UK breeders.

"The web-site is a good starting point for producers to evaluate whats available. There are some fantastic genetics on offer from UK herds."

RESTOCKING

&#8226 Check for UK stock.

&#8226 Consider health status.

&#8226 Re-assess farm business.