Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Rare sheep on death row
December 8, 2011 Toronto Star
Montana Jones loves her Shropshire sheep. She raises the rare heritage breed at no profit in a bid to protect the bloodlines tracing back to some of the first sheep on Canadian shores.
But the fluffy romance of 12 years has become a nightmare, with more than half of her flock of 75 slated for the chopping block for no reason, says the farmer. Her Wholearth Farm in Hastings, near Peterborough, was put under quarantine and listed as a possible source of infection after a ewe she sold to an Alberta farmer five years ago was diagnosed with scrapie.
Every sheep in her flock tested negative to a live tissue test for the disease, which affects the central nervous system of goats and sheep and has no cure. It’s considered a “reportable disease” by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and any animal infected or suspected of being infected is destroyed.
Since the new live tissue test is only about 85 per cent accurate, the CFIA determined the sheep were still potentially infected and are following their procedure to do a conclusive brain tissue test, she said.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous that they’re doing this,” said Dr. Tom Hutchinson, a professor at Trent University and former chair of Rare Breeds Canada. “They’re getting rid of one of the seriously important sheep that could make a comeback,” he said.
The 44 sheep targeted are the ones most genetically susceptible to scrapie, and make up a large portion of Jones’ breeding stock, including five rams. There are only about 132 Shropshire breeding ewes and 21 rams in Canada, said Jones.
The CFIA cannot comment on specific cases but “when rare breeds are concerned, there may be other options available to the producer that may allow for delayed destruction of susceptible animals so as to allow preservation of rare breed genetics,” said CFIA spokesperson Guy Gravelle.
Jones said this means she could sign up for a two-year pilot program to salvage some of the rare genetic material of her flock by mating her sheep with a ram that has low scrapie susceptibility. At the end of the two years, the 44 sheep would be killed anyway.
A case in 2009 where 409 goats and sheep were euthanized was recently documented by Bev Greenwell, the former head of the British Columbia Sheep Federation — the names and location of the farmers were kept secret at their request. No case of scrapie was found in their herd — a common result, she said.
The consequences of a scrapie scare last far longer for the farmers though, she said. “If you get a whiff of getting tested all of sudden your business is gone.” Also, all the sheep sold by the farm for the past 10 years have to be tracked down and tested as well.
There are very few cases of scrapie in Canada — 11 flocks were diagnosed with the disease in 2010, six were in Quebec. A $4.5 million national scrapie eradication plan was launched by the federal government in 2010 to determine the prevalence of the disease in sheep and goats in Canada.
Meanwhile, Jones is launching a campaign to persuade the agriculture minister give her a rare breed exemption. “I can’t imagine failing to stop them, and they pull up to euthanize all of them,” she said. “I can’t imagine just standing by for it.”
Learn more, take action: Save our shrops!
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