Mass slaughter looms for Shetlands sheep

18 September 1998

Mass slaughter looms for Shetlands’ sheep

By Allan Wright

PLANS are being finalised for the mass slaughter of up to 20,000 sheep in the Shetland Islands because the market has collapsed for cull ewes and small, store wedder lambs.

There is no winter feed for the sheep and there is no room for them on the hills.

“The only alternative we have is to slaughter the animals humanely and bury them in pits,” said Jim Budge, president of the islands branch of the Scottish NFU. “I have never faced anything like this in my lifetime,”

Mr Budge and other farmers representatives will meet Scottish Environmental Protection Agency officials to begin the process of finding suitable burial sites later today (Friday).

“Overwintering these sheep is not an economic option,” Mr Budge said. “The price of hay and straw is prohibitive by the time it is imported from England. Many of the ewes are broken-mouthed and unfit for hill grazing.

“There would be severe overstocking and welfare problems if the sheep were retained and that would do nothing for farmings image,” Mr Budge said.

Breeding ewes at the most recent sale in Shetland averaged just £1.50 compared with £12 last year. The minimum market charge for selling a sheep is £1.05. Store wedder lambs at the same sale averaged £5.25 with many making only £1.

Even at the top end of the market, Suffolk x Shetland lambs averaged less than £19 compared with £36 last year. Buyers from the mainland, who in previous years took much of the islands crop, are not in the market this year.

Mr Budge was among a delegation of Shetland farmers and crofters that met Scottish farm minister, Lord Sewel, last week.

“He told us to tighten our belts and wait for better times. He must expect us to turn into supermodels with 22-inch waists,” said Mr Budge.

He has 250 ewes, 45 cows, and some grain and potatoes on the 162ha (400 acres) he farms with his son. Both their wives work part-time. “That is the only thing which keeps us above subsistence level,” he said.

“We used to have our own privately-run abattoir, but that has closed because the throughput did not justify the extra inspection and other charges that have been placed on the industry. That is another outlet for sheep no longer available.

“We have secured a derogation for the on-farm disposal of heads and other risk material from sheep slaughtered for home consumption,” Mr Budge said.

“Each farmer has to get individual permission from the ministry vet. But that will do nothing for the massive overhang we are now facing of sheep for which there is no market at all.”

See more