Having fallen sheep collected free under DEFRA’s scrapie surveillance scheme sounds great in theory, but what happens when the first sheep you send tests positive for scrapie?
In the case of Colin and Jackie Baker of Lordsland Farms, East Guldeford, Rye, it severely limits your business and farming practice and leaves a gaping hole in farm income.
For many farms restrictions wouldn’t pose too many problems, with reasonable compensation offered for culls and replacement rams able to be bought up to the value of £500, says Mr Baker.
“But we breed pure Romneys and a large proportion of our income comes from selling breeding ewes and ewe lambs. And when many of our ewes have been selling for prices in the region of £85 a head, the cull values offered under the Compulsory Scrapie Flocks Scheme leave a gap in farm income.
“While the £65 a head offered for older ewes is reasonable, we have a problem with ewes classified as type two under scrapie genotyping. DEFRA doesn’t take those for culling, but we are only able to sell them to other flocks in the CSFS scheme or sell them for killing.”
Finding other CSFS flocks has been hard as the State Vet Service is unwilling to inform the Bakers of other affected flocks and, as a supporter of live markets, the partnership is nervous of where these ewes may end up should they be sold through a local market, Ashford’s cull ewe sale.
“There’s every chance that someone will buy them to breed from and, while we wouldn’t intend that to happen, how can we restrict who buys them out of the market?”
And the same problem faces their ewe lamb sales. With Romneys generally having large proportions of types one and two, the Bakers face having to slaughter significant numbers of type two ewe lambs for slaughter. “Again how could we stop them going for breeding if someone bought them from the prime sale?”
With the closed flock regularly winning prizes in the Romney Sheep Breeders Society’s annual ewe and ewe lamb sales, breeding stock from Lordsland Farms are highly sought after, says Mrs Baker. “Buyers regularly come from both East Anglia and the south west to buy the prize-winning pens from Ashford. This means our customers are unable to buy the stock they want.”
However, it’s the way the closure notice and subsequent scheme requirements have been implemented which has caused frustration for Mr Baker. “All our 316-acre farm is an SSSI and subject to a HLS agreement, the terms of which means we have to ensure the farm is free of stock from the end of November until the end of February.
“We have always put sheep away to keep for the winter but, once the closure notice had been enforced on 22 May last year until the end of October, we were unable to move any sheep off the farm.”
This meant the Bakers had to keep putting off sending ewes away and couldn’t tell the farms they were sending them to when they’d be there. “Eventually we got them away, but we lost access to one of the farms we regularly send to, meaning others have had to be stocked heavier.”
While Mr Baker has been able to negotiate a force majeure agreement to ensure an early return won’t jeopardise the HLS agreement, he is conscious not to do anything which might endanger the unique ecosystem of the farm.
“Additionally, once the sheep had been genotyped the SVS sent through the genotypes with incomplete identification numbers. The EID boluses used have 16-digit identification numbers, but the paperwork we received only had 15-digit numbers on. The missing digit was the last one, which meant we were unable to match up the EID numbers with our own tag numbers, making it impossible to identify ewes of different genotypes.”
Having sent nearly 200 sheep for scrapie testing, the Bakers have yet to have another one test positive, something which has left them questioning the value of the scheme and the efforts they have made to obey the CSFS rules.
“What’s it all been for? We’re only able to use type one genotype rams and have had a significant restriction placed on our business. But with only one scrapie-affected ewe out of more than 1700 sheep on the farm it does leave us questioning whether the initial test was right,” he adds.