23 March 2000
Farmers deny shooting healthy ewes
By FWi staff
FARMERS representatives have dismissed “insulting” claims that farmers shoot 100,000 healthy sheep every year because they cannot afford vet fees.
Figures from the National Animal Disease Information Service show that calls to vets for help with lambings have decreased dramatically.
The statistics show that vet-assisted births are down by a third and the number of caesareans has decreased by a half this year.
The organisation, part-funded by drug companies, was featured in a story on BBC Online which said pregnant sheep were being shot.
But Les Armstrong, livestock committee chairman with the National Farmers Union, dismissed the idea that farmers are unnecessarily killing ewes.
The reduction in call-outs may be because farmers are doing more lambing work themselves, rather than relying on outside help, he said.
He added: “We dont get vets in often and dont get stuck. If I lost five ewes through birth in a season Id be disappointed.”
Mr Armstrong, who runs 1000 breeding ewes in Cumbria, conceded that, where caesareans are needed, it may be more cost-effective to kill the animal.
But he insisted that such situations are rare occurrences and certainly do not total 100,000 cases every year across the country.
“If this report is saying this is done as a very last resort due to depressed prices, I would agree,” Mr Armstrong told Farmers Weekly.
“But if it is suggesting that farmers are being casual with their stock, that is an insult.”
Kevin Pearce, beef and sheep advisor with the NFU, suggested the decline in call outs may be because more farmers are bringing their sheep to vets.
“Its quite possible more farmers are putting their animals in a vehicle and taking them to the vet. This is cheaper than calling the vet out, and often quicker.”
Mr Pearce also questioned the economics of shooting a breeding ewe which could produce lambs for years to come.
And he dismissed claims by animal welfare groups that more sheep births require veterinary assistance because the animals are bred to have bigger lambs.
All evidence showed no increase in lamb size, said Mr Pearce, pointing out that carcass weight has in fact gone down in recent years.
Mr Armstrong added that farmers are careful to cut back feeding to ewes near lambing time to stop the unborn lamb putting on too much weight.
The UK has a national flock of approximately 18 million breeding ewes.