7 September 2001

Restrictions will create sales &sourcing snags

By Marianne Curtis

SELLING or sourcing store or breeding stock this autumn will be fraught with difficulties, following the latest round of movement restrictions.

Sellers are likely to come off worst due to cashflow problems and having to cope with higher stock numbers over winter, unless rules are eased. Supplies of suitable breeding sheep could also be at risk for years to come, believes John Parry of Donington Farm, Wolverhampton, who has a 450 Mule ewe flock.

"I usually buy 80 replacement ewe lambs or shearlings from Yorkshire, but many flocks have been culled. I could buy from elsewhere, however, this could prove expensive and I would be buying blind, so I am keeping homebred Suffolk x Mules as replacements this year. This is not ideal as these would normally be sold as high quality finished lambs."

He suggests having a month when sheep can move under licence, but relatively freely.

"Otherwise, quality breeding sheep will end up on the welfare disposal scheme. This could disrupt breeding ewe supply for the next 4-5 years," says Mr Parry.

Sheep movements could be severely hampered following proposals that all sheep moving between farms, even those in foot-and-mouth free counties, may need to be blood tested, according to NFU chief beef and sheep adviser Kevin Pearce.

"There is only the serological capacity to process 140,000 blood samples a week. About 5m sheep must be tested in infected areas before these can be cleared, which could take several months. So where will the capacity come from to test sheep in free areas?

"If producers receive no clear signals from DEFRA soon, there will be an incentive to move sheep quickly under current regulations, before September 17 when new rules are implemented."

Small consignment sizes from individual farms also pose particular difficulties, according to David Brown, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association. "Many large sheep producers buy lots of 400-500 replacement ewes. These will usually be sourced from several farms selling possibly 50-100 each – not enough to form a lorry load. As multiple pick ups are not allowed, transporting sheep even modest distances will be at huge cost. The situation with tups – sold in single figure numbers is even worse."

Catalogues, website and video sales may be replacing live auctions as vehicles for selling stock. However, these must operate within DEFRA movement restrictions, says Jonathan Barber, joint administrator of Sheepfinder.com – a website set up to enable sales of pedigree and commercial breeding ewes.

"Regardless of what happens with auction sales, this type of medium will continue to have a role in selling. The site is linked to DEFRA sites, enabling producers to access latest movement information."

But lack of clarity over movement restrictions continues to anger Richard Fuller of JSR Farms, Pocklington, East Yorks. "They are not based on science when on one date you can do one thing, but on another you cant.

"Currently we are trying to sell 250 store cattle to a finisher three miles inside the new North Yorks blue box area. For six months movement between Provisionally Free to At Risk areas has been allowed, then suddenly it is banned."

One Northumberland beef producer seriously affected by new movement restrictions (see Business, Aug 31) banning movements between different At Risk areas is Robert Robinson of Alnwick, Northumberland. Mr Robinson has 500 suckled calves to sell.

"We are 40 miles from the nearest F&M outbreak, however, new regulations mean the whole of Northumberland will be designated a high risk county. Usually, 80% of the countys store cattle go to Scotland or Yorkshire for finishing, however, because North Yorkshire is also high risk, movement there will not be permitted.

"We are hoping to finish heifers and sell the rest within Northumberland, however, not all producers may find markets and some could end up in big trouble." &#42

SOURCINGSTOCK

&#8226 Consider moving before Sept 17.

&#8226 Keep home-bred replacements.

&#8226 Finish own stock.