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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 12:05 GMT
Farmer's diary: Facing ruin?
Adam Quinney's livestock
Playing the waiting game
Warwickshire farmer Adam Quinney steels himself for the worst, as the foot-and-mouth virus devastates his neighbours' farms.

Foot and mouth is creeping ever closer to my farm. We now have two outbreaks within 1km, and I wonder what future I have as a livestock farmer.

It would seem a terrible waste to slaughter animals and then burn them rather than eat them, but the real tragedy is to destroy the breeding stock that represents many generations of work.

Adam Quinney's children
Years of traditional sheep-rearing could be destroyed
When I think of the hefted flocks in Cumbria being destroyed en masse, it brings a great sadness to my heart.

Hefted flocks are part of the farm that they live on. They do not wander far from the part of the hill that they were born and reared on, and do not mix with other sheep to any great degree. This allows them to be farmed.

Generations destroyed

Without hefted flocks, the hills of Cumbria would have to be fenced. Once these hefted flocks are gone it will take many years to "retrain" the replacement sheep.

It could be that I could become a high risk flock over the coming weeks, and see my closed flock of sheep destroyed.

All the sheep on my farm, apart from a few male sheep, have been bred and born on the farm. Ironically, one of the reasons for having a closed flock was to keep disease out of the flock.

If it means slaughtering my sheep to save my cattle - and a high proportion of the cows have been reared from calves on the farm - then that is a price that has to be paid.

The reality of the virus

Farmer Quinney
Adam Quinney: Supports the slaughter policy
Over the last few weeks, I have spoken to many farmers who have described what happens to cows with foot-and-mouth. If anybody thinks that FMD is only a mild disease they are wrong.

Cows can lose parts of their tongues and feet, resulting in dramatic loss of weight, and that can lead to other health problems.

In sheep, while mature animals do not seem to show much distress, FMD causes the ewes to abort their lambs and young lambs can also die from heart failure.

As I understand it, the vaccines are not always effective, and we would have to treat all the animals twice a year.

I find it odd that the Soil Association is now proposing vaccination, yet if I were an organic farmer, it would not want me to vaccinate my sheep for other diseases!

Foot-and-mouth causes ewes to abort their lambs
As with all viruses, no doubt the FMD virus will keep mutating, bringing the need for new vaccines the whole time.

At the moment the only policy must be slaughter. But for this to be effective it must be done quickly and not with minute by minute commands from Whitehall.

It would be a great, great tragedy if the best animal genetics were destroyed and wasted because the destruction of infected sheep was bungled.

Previous diaries from Adam Quinney:

  • 12 March: A farmer's fears

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