29 January 1999

Wet raises dirt rejects worry

By Simon Wragg

DIRTY stock is an increasing concern as wet weather continues and straw prices increase, meaning both sheep and cattle finishers are faced with cleaning stock or rejection at markets and abattoirs.

Despite weather and straw price concerns, the MLCs David Croston advises persevering with dirty stock, particularly lambs. But he claims that the recent tentative rise in sheep prices has taken some pressure off the need to get lambs away quickly, allowing more time to clean lambs before sale.

Taking stock to abattoirs and markets without ensuring they meet Meat Hygiene Service standards could prove expensive, warns Signets Richard Elliot. He says rejection could cut £1.40/head off sheep margins in transport costs alone, and even more for finished cattle where stock is returned to be cleaned.

But some producers are boycotting abattoirs where they believe dirty stock rules are being enforced strictly, says NSA chief executive John Thorley. "This is a move producers can ill afford, particularly as many are desperate to get lambs away."

To ensure lambs are clean, ADAS sheep specialist Kate Phillips advises setting aside an area of drier grass or stubble for grazing lambs for 48-72 hours before they are sold. Changing rations to drier feeds should also help reduce risk of contamination from loose dung during transport.

With straw a scarce and expensive commodity on many beef units, finishers face an equally fraught – and more dangerous – decision on how to clean up yarded cattle, warns SACs Basil Lowman. "If you want to kill someone, clipping finished cattle is the way to do it," is his stark warning.

To keep cattle clean and make most use of available bedding, Dr Lowman advises scraping out yards in front of feed troughs regularly and spreading straw only at the back of yards.

He also recommends mimicking lie-back areas for sheep by creating a deep litter pen for holding finished cattle before sale. Rations should also be adjusted before sale, feeding straw or hay to increase the dry matter content of dung thereby helping keep cattle clean. Where cattle must be clipped, observe good stockmanship, move cattle in groups, handle gently and quietly, he says. "When a beast gets agitated, do not persevere. Let it go and leave it a day or two before trying again. Do not risk your or your staffs health."

&#8226 Risk of a strike by Meat and Hygiene Service inspectors means producers should check abattoirs have alternative plans to ensure stock can still be taken, warns the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers.

As a temporary measure, abattoirs are expected to call in local environmental health staff to ensure stock can still be processed. Details of the inspectors strike – due, at the time of writing, to start with a 24-hour stoppage on Feb 2 – will be published in the national press a week ahead of action, says the inspectors union Unison. &#42

DIRTYSTOCK

&#8226 High cost of rejection.

&#8226 Pre-sale cleaning pen.

&#8226 Rations higher in dry matter.