31 August 2001

Scots rocked by setbacks

By Marianne Curtis

JUST as life post foot-and-mouth was beginning to return to normal in the Scottish borders, with restocking well under way, news that four of the areas farms have been declared dangerous contacts comes as a bitter blow.

The region was only two days away from being declared provisionally free from the disease, according to our Farmer Focus contributor Giles Henry, who farms in Selkirkshire.

Meanwhile, producers in the area are beginning to restock, following F&M outbreaks in April. David Richardson of Upper Samieston Farm, near Jedburgh, had stock culled on Apr 10 on contiguous grounds.

"We were in between two farms, belonging to the same producer, whose animals went down with F&M. We were three-quarters of the way through lambing and lost 1000 adult sheep, 800 lambs and 300 head of cattle, including 130 suckler cows."

The cull was justified, believes Mr Richardson. "We would have got the disease and culling halted F&M spread in this area."

Although disinfection was carried out rapidly, there was a period when it was unclear when restocking would be permitted, he says. "We mucked out sheds ourselves then a cleaning squad came in, completing work within a week."

Eventually a letter arrived, explaining the sentinel restocking policy. "A small number of sentinel animals had to be moved around every field and building, inspected every week, then blood tested."

Feeling that moving animals around the whole farm was not practical, Mr Richardson decided to wait. However, when offered a herd of cows in late June, he looked into the matter further and discovered application of the rules was more practical than anticipated.

"We could restock with as many animals as we wanted and had to designate which fields they would occupy. Cows had to be inspected by a vet every four weeks."

Initially, half the farm was restocked, and has now been given Form B status. The other half remains on a Form A, but cows have just been moved on to this land, with four-weekly inspections due to begin. "Cows are used to indicate whether the ground is free from F&M," explains Mr Richardson.

In the early phase of restocking, being under Form A restrictions was frustrating when calves began to die. "There was no explanation and restrictions meant our local vet was unable to send blood samples for diagnosis. We believe the problem may have been blackleg because deaths stopped once we vaccinated against it."

For producers intending to restock, Mr Richardson advises doing so as soon as possible. "Stock will become more expensive."

This sentiment is echoed by Forest Irving of Whitchesters Farm, Hawick, whose sheep were culled in the Priesthaugh 3km cull. "Few have had trouble sourcing stock. However, once areas such as Dumfries and Galloway and Cumbria begin restocking, it may become more difficult."

Mr Irving lost 900 North Country Cheviot and 60 pedigree Suffolk ewes. "We bought in 700 Cheviot ewes from northern Scotland in June. I dont plan to replace the pedigree flock at present as it is difficult to compensate for 28 years of breeding."

Instead, suckler cow numbers will be increased. "I have bought additional quota and we have heifers which can be used to boost numbers."

Both producers remain cautious about bio-security issues. "It is difficult to know whether it makes a difference, as we were one of the first farms in the area to have disinfectant mats back in February. But every vehicle entering the farm will continue to be disinfected as long as F&M is around," says Mr Richardson.

The recent Northumberland outbreaks have added to concern, according to Mr Irving. "The way the disease has jumped around in the past means you can never be certain where it is. It is frightening to imagine where the next case may appear." &#42

SCOTTISHRESTOCKING

&#8226 Rules confusing.

&#8226 Stock easily sourced.

&#8226 Bio-security remains tight.