April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 24. Importing exotic sheep breeds

East Friesian sheep breed importation
Quarantine and release details
Economic implications for company of quarantine rules
Semen freezing fiasco
Release from quarantine

By Dr Clive Dalton

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

 The East Friesian quarantine programme at Mosgiel

·         From Somes Island the EF animals went to a quarantine area the company established at Silverstream near Mosgiel, and lived there for the next three and a half years. From the 11 ewes and 4 rams imported in December 1992, the company had 580 animals ready for release to industry by March 1996. 

·      Only animals derived from ET and born from recipient ewes in another quarantine area were allowed to be released. John Bolger was the company’s allocated MAF veterinarian and proved to be pragmatic and helpful at all times.

·       The multiplication programme went well. Ewes lambed in January to March 1993, and were treated with hormones to get them pregnant again to lamb in November of the same year. 

·      Embryo transfer programmes allowed lambs to be born on the secondary quarantine in 1994 and 1995. Previously in 1994 the company joined some Romney ewes with East Friesian and Border Leicester rams to enable a comparison of EF crosses with the most common crossbred available in NZ. The very marked superiority of the EF crosses, plus the fact that the company could show the animals to many interested sheep farmers who visited the quarantine station was a major part of the marketing strategy. 

·      Throughout the quarantine period the company kept up a strong communication programme with industry, and had thousands of visitors to the quarantine unit to observe the animals and their crossbred progeny, all of which built up demand.

An Early Release Date of EF sheep
East Friesian ewes.  Photo: Jock Allison
·      Import conditions required the inoculation of kid goats with mesenteric lymph node material recovered from the imported ewes, which were the first donors for embryo recovery, and transfer into recipient ewes which were in the company’s secondary quarantine. 

·      The company had a stipulation that these kid goats should be kept for 3 years from the date of inoculation. Because of the very large udder development in the East Friesian ewes, it was early April 1993 before it was possible to operate on these ewes to recover the lymph node material for the inoculations. 

·      Jock said that the scientific literature indicated that 12 months was the expected time by which they could expect to see the manifestation of Scrapie in the sentinel goats, if there happened to be any in the imported animals. 

·      By waiting the 3 years the company would have missed the 1996 breeding season in the North Island, and there was clearly a significant demand for the sheep. So the company submitted a case for early release to the Maximum Security Quarantine Advisory Committee (MSQAC), and prior to this meeting they submitted a case to Meat Board and NZ Stock and Station members of that committee. Both neglected to turn up, and consequently the MSQAC’s view was a unanimous NO!

Economic implications of quarantine rules
·      The company had already spent about $2 million, so the committee’s decision had major economic consequence as they could not meet North Island clients’ requirements. 

·      The stupidity was that (a) MAF agreed with the company, (b) most of the industry agreed with them, and (c) there was no scientific evidence which suggested there was any disease risk of a release 21 days shorter than first defined.  And yet the relevant industry consultation committee did not agree.

·       So the company made another case and lobbied all the committee members, and shareholder Roger Marshall made a personal representation to the MSQAC committee. He stated the release time posed no additional health risks, and this opportunity was too important for the industry to pass up, as there was no suggestion of disease risk the industry was in effect ‘shooting itself in the foot. 

     The upshot was that the company gained a majority decision for the early release and it was then up to the Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Peter O’Hara to come to a decision and present this to the Minister of Agriculture (the late John Falloon). 

       Dr Peter O'Hara.  Photo: Words and Pictures

·      This was done and the company squeaked through, even though Jock’s previous meeting with the Minister had elicited the opinion that he didn’t think it was all that important. Significantly, Federated Farmers' Meat and Wool Chairman Eddie Orr was strongly opposed to the three-week earlier release, clearly against the interests of his sheep farming members.

The semen freezing fiasco
·      From December 1995 to February 1996 the company froze 40,000 straws of semen from 20 rams to be ready for industry demand. In 1996 about twice as many sheep were artificially inseminated than have ever been in the sheep industry before or since. About 50,000 ewes were inseminated, 28,000 with frozen semen, the rest with fresh from rams the company had sold. 

·      The company specified that there should be a minimum of 15 million live sperm per straw, and early in the use of all this semen it was learned that some of the straws were ‘a bit thin’.  

·      Independent measurements showed that the average number of live sperm was about half of that specified, which created a big dispute with the contractor who maintained that they were world experts, and there was nothing wrong with their product. However, many farmers who got poor insemination results blamed the lower number of sperm per straw which was very hard to argue with. Most operators did very well with the straws but there were a lot of arguments. 

·      Fortunately the company had supplied semen for a very large field trial run by Dr John Smith at Ruakura, where straws of semen from the same ejaculate were used at various locations throughout the country. It was hard for the inseminators to blame the semen for 30 to 40% conception rates, when others in other locations were getting 60 to 80% with the identical product. 

·      However it still cost the company in excess of $100,000 to clear up all the disputes, which supported their refusal to pay for the freezing of the semen. They agreed to an independent arbitrator to assess the semen quality, and the result was as the company expected, that the average number of sperm per straw wasn’t much more than half of the specification.

Release from Quarantine  
·      The animals were released by the company around 20th March 1996 with a major auction at Regines nightclub at the Shoreline hotel in Dunedin. This had both TV channels and ‘Rams at Regines’ was the cry. The company sold some 28,000 straws of semen and 50 rams in 1996, and had ram auctions for the next three years at Gore, and sold many rams and pregnant ewes with East Friesian lambs in utero in subsequent years. 

·      There was an estimated 50,000 ewes of various breeds being artificially inseminated.

·      The company was not allowed to sell during the usual ram sale times at Gore, but in an evening auction in the town they sold 20 rams for a total value for more than all of the Romneys sold the next day. The pressure on the other breeders was on. 

·      In 1995 'Silverstream East Friesians' registered the first flock with the New Zealand Sheep Breeders’ Association (NZSBA), and in 1996 several more flocks were registered and this has continued, but only in small flocks. 

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