CONTROVERSY AS TESTED BLACKIE WINS HIGHLAND
£37,000 ram proves a case in point
The Scottish Farmer
By Patsy Hunter
29 June 2002, p. 5.
THE CONTROVERSIAL choice of an R5 scrapie genotype rated Blackface ram as supreme breed champion at the Highland Show has led to calls for an urgent re-think of the National Scrapie Plan.
Under the current rules of the plan, the animal would have to be culled or castrated.
Having won the breed championship, the two-shear ram shown by Angus Kennedy, farm manager at Gosland, Broughton, Biggar, went on to make up part of the winning pair in the prestigious inter-breed pairs competition. It also stood a close third in the individual inter-breed section.
In addition to its outstanding breed qualities, many commercial and pedigree breeders were so impressed by the sheer shape, power and conformation of the tup, that Mr Kennedy had numerous requests to purchase semen or sons off him at the show.
The tup has so far escaped the knife because it was tested privately in 2000, before the government scheme had been introduced.
It was, nevertheless, the prospect of such a top breeding ram, purchased for £37,000 as a shearling, being slaughtered when there has never been a single case of scrapie in the Blackface sheep breed, which has prompted fierce criticism among sheep breeders.
"It's absolutely hellish that a tup like this cannot be used because of his genotype classification. This is the type of sheep you would expect the breed to benefit from in years to come. He's big, bright with a tremendous shape and carcase," said the show judge, Willie McNicol, Cladich, Dalmally.
These comments were echoed by the inter-breed sheep pairs judge, Michael Aynsley, Wardshill, Longframlington, Morpeth.
"The tup is correct in every way. He's got terrific power and conformation and an extraordinary gigot which is every bit as good as the Suffolk and the Texel winners. It's an absolute sin to have to cull such an animal when it could benefit the breed so much," he said.
The issue also highlighted the growing misgivings Blackface sheep breeders, in particular, have of the NSP in its present form.
Many believe it will be detrimental to the sheep industry, especially when Australia and New Zealand, who are scrapie and BSE-free, are working at the other end of the scale, ie selecting R4 and R5 scrapie genotype sheep, to widen their gene pool.
Trial work in these two countries has also revealed that R1 scrapie genotype tups appear more susceptible to respiratory diseases and are often smaller and finer built. The R5s on the other hand, it has been claimed, are stronger boned and built sheep and often boast higher daily liveweight gains.
Meanwhile, in this country, the major supermarkets have already hinted that they will only purchase lambs with R1 scrapie genotype classifications in the near future. It is questionable, however, if they will be prepared to abandon the New Zealand market, which is bound to rely on lamb from R4 and R5 sheep?
Many Scottish sheep breeders believe the NSP is being forced upon them without sufficient trials or scientific evidence as to how the government's rapidly progressing plan will affect both the sheep and the food industries.
Under the current rules, R5 genotype rams have to be culled and R3 tups would not be allowed to be sold at public auction after the end of 2004, although they could be used on farm up to 2007.
"There has never been a case of scrapie in the Blackface sheep breed. But, if this plan goes ahead, virtually 50% of the breed could be wiped out by 2004," said Mr Kennedy, a past president of the Blackface breed who has been privately scrapie genotype testing Blackfaces for a number of years.
"By eliminating the ARQ/ARQ gene the breed will lose many of its hardiness traits for which the breed is renowned.
"I know there are a lot of pressures within the industry to eliminate the risk of BSE in sheep, so I'm not saying we have to abandon the National Scrapie Plan. Instead, the NSP should be progressing at a slower pace."
Another breeder, Andy Woodburn, Netherwood, Muirkirk, added that there is no point in having the scheme as there is still no proof that it was the offal from scrapie infected sheep that caused BSE.
"What is the point in having the scheme when they still can't prove what caused BSE. There has never been a case of scrapie in Blackface sheep."