22 November 1996

NEW STOCK:WHERE TO FIND IT AND CHOOSE IT

Whether MAFF decides to go ahead with an accelerated cull, many milk producers have a similar problem: What is the best source of bought-in replacements? Peter Grimshaw reports

IF you are numbered among the roughly 35% of dairy farmers who have apparently been BSE-free, you will certainly be monitoring your herd for the faintest tremor.

Meanwhile, no doubt, you will be rearing every respectable female calf that is dropped, recognising that they will eventually be in demand.

For now, overhung with redundant, but still lactating cows, many producers are under little pressure to bring new stock into the herd. But the day will come when normal replacement policy can be resumed. If an accelerated cull were to became a reality, the resulting need for replacements would be as critical as it was at the height of BSE incidence in the early 90s.

With or without a cull, a recognised BSE-free herd seems the best bet for anyone needing replacements on the hoof. ADAS senior dairy specialist, Helen Woolley, says prospective buyers should be asking whether heifers come either from BSE-free herds or from BSE-free stock. "The safeguards are to buy from a known source, such as a dispersal sale or known herd," she says. "You should inquire what the farms BSE status is."

A call to the Divisional Animal Health Centre at Gloucester suggested that may not be as easy as it sounds. MAFFs Animal Health Division Offices have a comprehensive database of BSE records, but its information is confidential to individual farms.

The duty vet at Gloucester said there was not much that could be revealed, and in particular an individual farms BSE status was information confidential to that farm. "We could only tell you on the basis of an ear-tag number whether it would be worth tracing the animals origin. We could not say who the originating farmer was."

Gloucester Centre would, however, be prepared to provide sellers of stock from BSE-free farms with a document confirming their status, although it has not so far been asked for one. It would also be possible to confirm that the dam of a specific animal, identified by its tag, had not been diagnosed as infected with BSE.

Again, this data could only be supplied to the original owner, not to a potential buyer. But if you are armed with an animals tag number it is theoretically possible to trace that animals origins.