April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 23. Importing exotic sheep breeds

East Friesian sheep importation from Sweden, 1992
Transport problems from Sweden to New Zealand
Quarantine on Somes Island

East Friesian importation 1992

Information obtained from paper presented by Dr Jock Allison to NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management, December 2006 
By Dr Clive Dalton

From trials undertaken by MAF’s Research Division after the first importation of exotic sheep in the 1970s, the East Friesian x Romney cross looked very promising in the early stages of multiplication. 

Here is a summary of the main events relating to the East Friesian importation as reported in Dr Jock Allison’s paper:

Dr Jock Allison.  Photo: Otago Daily Times


·    Jock visited Turkey when working for the UN and took the opportunity to visit Sweden (in addition to the Israel) which Dr John Hellstrom the Chief Veterinary Officer of MAF had suggested was likely to be an acceptable source of animals for importation. 
Dr John Hellstrom. Photo: Words and Pictures
·      John Hellstrom was also a friend of the Swedish chief sheep veterinarian Dr Asa Lindqvist who was of major assistance in putting the whole Swedish programme  together. 

·      Dr Stuart MacDiarmid MAF’s chief advisor on Animal Imports was also very helpful, as Jock’s company grappled with a number of problems through the importation. 

·      The company traded as Silverstream Ltd with two thirds owned by Jock and Hilary Allison and one third by Russell and Tricia Hamilton.

·      The development of the import health standard was pretty quick and incident free, and things were ready to get going in the second half of 1992. This programme was a joint venture with 2/3rds owned by the Allison family. 

·      Jock traveled to Sweden to select, purchase and pre-quarantine sheep before their transport to New Zealand. Having selected the animals, the source flocks had to undergo a series of tests prior to assembling the group for a period of isolation and additional health testing.

·       Unfortunately the biggest East Friesian flock in Sweden had a very high incidence of Maedi visna (a slow virus disease) and no animals could be selected. This was disappointing but disastrous for the flock as they could no longer trade animals even within their own country.

Problems with transport to New Zealand

East Friesian ewe.  Photo: Internet
·      Having assembled the 11 pregnant ewes and 4 rams and the pre-quarantine going well, MAF Import Section veterinarian Vaughan Seed would not approve any air route from Frankfurt back to NZ, in spite of the company having approval for this in June 6 months previously. 

·      This refusal caused considerable panic as Jock tried every alternative route. It was possible to ship the animals to England, as their veterinary authorities would not allow the animals into the UK while they waited for a flight from Heathrow to New Zealand. 

·      Routes through the USA with various carriers were tried, and the situation was getting serious. Close to Christmas Jock’s team had to book airfreight which was difficult, as in Sweden ewes more than 4 months pregnant were not allowed to travel and if this went beyond Christmas, all travel for the ewes would be off.

·      Jock found Seed’s attitudes hard to fathom and had many arguments with him, which resulted in visits to higher levels (the Chief Veterinary Officer Peter O’Hara and the Beehive) to resolve. 

·      The answer was political and Jock urgently contacted Warren Cooper the National MP for Otago and also a government Minister, and a meeting was convened in his office in December.  Jock’s wife Hilary orchestrated things for the company and she and Russell Hamilton travelled to Wellington, as did Jill Jones their transport agent from Auckland, all at the company’s expense of course. As they got off the plane they were paged in the airport with a message from MAF that they had approved the air route for the sheep. 

·      The meeting still went ahead in Cooper’s office with the MAF officials, who were exhaustively asked if they were sure that there were no other matters which were of concern regarding animals coming to new Zealand.  The planned trip for the sheep was from Auckland airport to Somes Island for a month’s quarantine, before they could go down to the company’s quarantine at Mosgiel. MAF gave assurances that all was well when Minister Cooper swept into his office and asked ‘are my people happy’? 

Sweden to Auckland and Auckland to Somes Island: 

Somes Island wharf.  Photo: Jim Hammonds 2014
·      While still in Sweden Jock had to arrange for a travel crate to be built to transport the 15 sheep, which was negotiated by phone with German authorities that assured him that they knew everything about animal transport crates. 

·      Jock had doubts, as first they had to travel by truck about 350 km from Kalmar to Stockholm ready to catch a freighter to Frankfurt where they would then catch an Air New Zealand plane home. Chips Jones a MAF vet travelled to Sweden to accompany the sheep (and Jock) back to NZ. 

·      Jock and team got to the freight depot at Stockholm and met the transport crate, which had come up from Germany. There were problems but Jock was prepared. The feed trays were about 150mm wide and had a 150mm vertical lip so the sheep couldn’t get their noses in to feed. There were surprised looks when Jock got inside the crate with a hammer and chisel and proceeded to knock the feed trays into shape. 

·      From leaving the pre-quarantine barn it took 83 hours before arrival in Auckland at about 1.00am on Christmas morning. Jock’s team had had about 5 hours sleep in Frankfurt and a bit on the plane and on arrival in Auckland it took some time before he could get around to where the animals were to be unloaded onto a truck for their trip to Wellington and on to Somes Island by boat. 

·      On Somes, the ewes wouldn’t come out of the crate and the MAF livestock officers were poking them in the guts with a broom. Jock took exception to this as the sheep didn’t appreciate being poked when heavily pregnant and worth $20,000 each. Someone lent Jock some overalls, and he climbed into the crate and the animals trotted straight out onto the truck. 

·      The company specified that the ewes and rams had to be separated by a gate on their trip to Somes, but the MAF’s Livestock Officers at the airport knew better and after a serious disagreement they refused to allow a partition to be put up. The result of this was that the rams nearly killed a ewe that had had problems on the flight and was not well on arrival. But Lock says the Somes Island MAF staff did a terrific job with this ewe, and indeed with all the sheep as they lambed safely in their first month after arrival.

Quarantine Costs on Somes Island

Somes Island former quarantine station buildings.  
Photo: Jim Hammonds 2014
·      Jock remembers that the cost of the animals in quarantine was about $11 for bed and breakfast per day for each animal, which was high enough and the company had signed a contract to that effect. The animals were released from Somes at the end of January 1993, and Jock says an account subsequently arrived from MAF for about twice the expected price. And in addition, the lambs were charged at the same rate in spite of them being very young and on their mothers. 

·      Jock asked why the cost was so high and the reply was that MAF staff had worked a lot of overtime with the lambing ewes. The company maintained that it was logical to have either an agreed daily rate for the animals, or a piece-rate where the hours would be charged. MAF couldn’t have it both ways, and charge a daily rate plus overtime - it wasn’t logical. Also Jock suggested that the ewes were looking after their own lambs and these lambs should not incur cost. 

·      MAF lawyers got in on the act and typically added to the confusion, and the company eventually paid the daily rate for all animals but no overtime! 

East Friesian sales and distribution

East Friesian - imported for high milk production and high fertility. 
 Photo: Internet
  •       In 1996, after the East Frisian purebreds got out of quarantine, 50,000 ewes were inseminated with frozen semen.
  •       30,000 straws of EF semen were sold at $35 each.
  •        20,000 ewes were inseminated with fresh EF semen.
  •        Romney breeder Derek Daniel and Coopworth breeder Ron Cocks purchased 8000 EF semen straws between them.
  •        In 1996 50 EF rams were sold for an average of $20,000.  
  •       A package of 10 ewes and 8 rams was sold to PPL Therapeutics for $400,000.

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