FARMERS losing cattle to the selective cull should approach the process as if they were selling stock – with MAFF the buyer.
That is the advice from Keith Flemington, chairman of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers Livestock and Auction Committee.
"That means in a clean condition, not covered in muck or dung, and ideally with some milk left in them.
"Have all the relevant details about the animal, such as her breed, date of birth, calving history and latest service details. It also means PIN details, pedigree certificates, NMR records and the herds average yield." Anything, in other words, which will maximise a cows value. Details of show wins, for example, will also do this.
Yes, theres a pile of paperwork involved, says Mr Flemington, but having it to hand will make the process quicker and less painful.
The farmer can choose compensation based either on the market value or 90% of the replacement value of the animals taken.
"Market prices are fairly lacklustre at the moment, not helped by falls in OTMS compensation which have had a knock-on affect to the dairy trade.
"So the replacement value is usually higher. This reflects what it would cost to buy another animal of the same breed and quality – and in its first lactation. The farmer wants to replace good with good."
Be up front about any faults with the stock, too, advises Mr Flemington. Otherwise it just slows down the process of agreeing values. Such openness is, he says, unlikely to affect payment. "If a cow is light in one quarter, for example, the compensation will be unaffected, because she would not be replaced with a three-quartered cow."
The "scarcity" element is also taken into account. This is particularly relevant for minority breeds.
"Finding 10 in-calf Jersey heifers at short notice will probably be harder than 10 in-calf Holstein Friesians."
There is an additional payment if more than 10% of the herd is taken, but this is rarely seen. Mr Flemington attributes this to MAFFs decision, despite strong protests from the CAAV, to count in-calf heifers as part of the herd when calculating numbers. This, he says, is contrary to traditional valuation practices.
Carrying out over 100 such valuations since May for Bruton Knowles has left Mr Flemington in no doubt as to the devastating impact the cull has had on some farmers. One farm he visited had 72 cows taken under the selective scheme.
"The animals have frequently been among the herds best. And, because it targets animals born between 1988 and 1993, those taken are well-loved and proven servants.
"Emotionally, its very tough for the breeders. If the animals were being taken away and killed because they were ill with tuberculosis or brucellosis, they could understand it. But to be killed for purely political reasons?"
Early MAFF estimates that about 150,000 animals could be slaughtered under the selective scheme will be way too high, reckons Mr Flemington. He estimates the final figure will probably be less than 50,000.
"A lot of the animals identified as cohorts will have been sold as barreners, before they are accounted for by the scheme.
"The amount of compensation MAFF eventually pays out will, therefore, be far less than originally thought.
"The process will probably run for another year, with stock becoming harder to trace. Many of the pedigree herds with full records have already been visited. That leaves more difficult cases – like flying herds."n
BSE SELECTIVE CULL
Animals taken by Aug 1