April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 22. Importing exotic sheep breeds

Animal Enterprises (AE) importations 1986
Finn, Texel, East Friesian, Gotland Pelt, German White Headed Marsh
 Stupid quarantine fencing regulations by MAF
Arguments with MAF over release dates from quarantine

 By Dr Clive Dalton

 Information obtained from paper presented by Dr Jock Allison to NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management, December 2006.
Fencing stupidity
MAF regulations said there was to be a 2m high deer fence on the outside and a conventional boundary fence on the inside both 2m apart.  So MAF wanted to heighten the sheep boundary to deer height, and then add another conventional boundary fence on the inside. 

The cheaper option for AE ($5/m) was to leave the existing boundary and build a new deer fence inside that. Jock asked the bureaucrats if they thought there was any difference to an escaping sheep or one breaking in, if it met a ‘high-low’ fence combination compared to a ‘low-high’ one?

The Palmerston North Regional Veterinary Officer (RVO) David Lorne said he couldn’t go against the decisions of his staff and the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) in Wellington Peter O’Hara, as it would be ‘bad for morale’, which clearly was more important than the several hundred thousand dollars extra it was costing AE in fencing.   

Jock took his case to Director General Malcolm Cameron, a man not know for snap decisions, and even the Minister of Agriculture, but to no avail. The importance of staff morale reigned supreme over biosecurity and client requirements.

AE went on to have almost 20,000 sheep in quarantine as their major multiplication programme kicked in for sheep sales in New Zealand and Australia.  Jock said that common sense prevailed in the last two years of the programme, thanks to MAF Head Office vet Jim Edwards assuming responsibility for protocols.

Arguments with MAF over release dates
·      The Lamb XL Board was of the view that the more exotic breed animals which were generated, then the more money they would make assuming that it would be as easy to sell 5000 Texels for the same price as it would be to sell 1000, i.e. straight-lining the price irrespective of the numbers for sale. It was Jock’s opinion that the generation of very large numbers for sale would depress prices, which may not result in more money being made. 

·      The multiplication programmes of the imported sheep continued unabated, and at the end of the quarantine period some 20,000 animals (including all of the recipient ewes) were held in secondary quarantines. The project lost in excess of $10 million (due to poor demand), but Jock declares that this was the largest 'public-good' research programme ever undertaken on behalf of the New Zealand farmers. The trouble was – nobody saw the loss in this light.

·      Jock is adamant that the financial loss would have most likely been far more, if the release date had been a year after the MAF exotic sheep programme, as was decreed in the initial importation technical conditions for both programmes (see below)

Release Dates  
·      The release date of animals derived from the MAF 1985 importation of embryos was initially decreed to be 5 years from the transplanting of the first imported embryos, i.e. March 1990. Lamb XL was programmed to release their animals in February 1991, i.e. one breeding season after the MAF importation. The long quarantine was required because of Scrapie. 

·      In 1986, MAFTech was born and all advice from then on was provided on a ‘user-pays’ basis, so significant revenue was expected from the sale of rams and ewes from their second importation under Sheepac (See other blogs). 

·      Funding of the quarantine expenses for MAFTech continued to come from the public purse as was all the importation costs involved, unlike LambXL which was funded totally commercially.

·      Significantly the Lamb XL importation early in 1986 included sheep from about 2/3rds of the flocks from which MAF had purchased ewes and rams for their embryo recovery programme late in 1984. So LambXL with their continuing quarantine would have large numbers of animals 6 to 9 years of age being observed for the unlikely appearance of scrapie, while MAF’s animals derived from the same flocks would be released. 

·      Jock asked what would happen if scrapie turned up in LambXL’s older sheep? Clearly this situation didn’t make sense as logically both populations were the same from an animal health point of view, and simultaneous release at a specified time should have been allowed. 

·      Obviously MAFTech was not interested in the release at the same time of the LambXL animals, as they saw their expected revenue from Sheepac being diminished. AE argued that a simultaneous release date was technically sound, and it was in the sheep industry’s interest to have this situation. 

·      The logic was inescapable, and Jock presented a comprehensive case to the MSQAC about the situation, and MAFTech at a meeting strenuously disputed that they had some basis to justify early release. Jock said they had no technical basis for this, and after months of deliberation the MSQAC came to an interesting decision. 
Dr Peter O'Hara.  Photo: Words and Pictures
·      Instead of bringing the LambXL release forward, Peter O’Hara and Bruce Koller instructed MAFTech to keep their sheep in quarantine for a further 8 months with release in November 2000, with the LambXL release allowed at the same time. This was a huge boost to Lamb XL and caused significant increased expenditure of taxpayers dollars by MAFTech to maintain their sheep in quarantine waiting another 12 months for their expected income, as they had to wait another breeding season for their release. 

·      The LambXL sheep were sold to a wide range of clients all over New Zealand and some to Australia but with the company ending up in the red big time.

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