26 April 1996


Europeans are calling for selective slaughter policy of dairy cattle in an attempt to rebuild shattered confidence in beef.

Scientific evidence certainly does not justify such a cull. Damage inflicted by this latest BSE scare on Britains beef industry is serious enough. To allow some Continental farm ministers to exploit our difficulties by demanding destruction of 60% of dairy herds where a case of BSE has been reported is going too far.

Among UK herds 11,749 have had just one case of the disease, against 1072 which have reported 20 cases or more. Clearly, treating both types of herd in the same way would be wrong.

As this Dairy Update issue went to press no decision on what criteria such a cull would be based had been made.

Immediate action is paramount. The UK government must convince Brussels that keeping cattle over 30 months is safeguard enough. But if further selective slaughter is proposed it should be confined to older cows in herds only with a high incidence of BSE. That cull should be phased over a period to avoid a significant disruption to milk production.

For producers keen to safeguard a lifetimes genetics it might be worth considering flushing valuable breeding stock and freezing the embryos. This topic, alongside the potential of oocyte recovery, will be featured in our next Dairy Update issue to be published May 10.

Given a widespread slaughter of cattle, dairy heifer replacements will undoubtedly be at a premium. It could pay to breed more animals to dairy sires and these should be as high in genetic merit as possible.

Another issue highlighted by this BSE scare is the need to know exactly what raw materials are being used in ruminant compounds. In future it will also make sense to consider sourcing compound feed from manufacturers who are committed to full ingredient declaration.