KMC0004 I was recently contacted by a 4-Her in Montana who was interested in buying a ram from me. I double-checked on the laws for interstate shipping of rams, because I feel it’s my duty to inform the buyer of what’s required. This turned out to be quite a research project, however. Here’s what I learned.

Montana’s Rules

Montana requires not only the scrapie tag, but also a certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI); and for rams over six months old, a brucellosis ELISA test, and a scrotal exam that confirms the ram is free of Epididymitis (cysts which imply brucellosis infection). And an “import permit” which is simply obtained by the veterinarian doing the inspection; they call and get an import number, and that gets written on the health certificate. The idea is that there is triangulation between the farm of origin, the vet who did the exam, and the shipper who is bringing the sheep across state lines.

The timing of these things is tricky. The vet certificate is honored for thirty days. But for the shipping permit, the sheep must cross the state line in ten days or less from when the permit was issued over the phone. And the brucellosis ELISA takes a week or two, to ship the blood, wait for it to be tested and get the results back. I called the state of Montana, to ask, what the heck, how can you get all of these timeframes to line up?

First they tried to advise that the vet do the exam, but hold onto the certificate, and sign it at a later date. Huh? What’s the point of having them post-date the form, the actual exam was still not done in the time frame you require for the shipping permit. And then I have to make a second trip to the vet to get the post-dated form. They admitted this doesn’t make any sense, so then they conceded that they could give us a thirty day shipping permit instead. This is intended more for people bringing sheep into the state temporarily to travel a show circuit. So, thankfully, at least a government official being flexible, given that their rules violate basic mathematical principles. CVI

Sheep Vets: Virtually Extinct in SnoCo

So, ok, the next hurdle: how to get a certificate of veterinary inspection in Snohomish County? I thought this should be easy. C’mon, any vet can do this, right? You just look at the sheep, assess its overall condition, listen to its heart, take its temperature, palpate its testicles, and fill out a short form, right? An example of the form in question is above, there’s not much to it, it just lists me, the shipper/buyer, the vet, and the sheep’s ear tag number. Sure, ruminants have a weird set of stomachs, but as I heard Dr. Parish at WSU once say, they’re all mammals, you know more about them than you think. And wouldn’t you think a fair charge for this would be about sixty bucks for an in-office call? Not! Here’s the roll call.

I called Dr. Laura. She is a vet who works for the state, so she doesn’t have a local practice. She is graciously willing to work on sheep after hours. Her price was fair, $45 for the health certificate. But, because she doesn’t have a clinic, she must do a farm call, and that’s $55. So, that’s a lot of money for a simple certificate for a sheep valued at $400! Surely I could find a place to take the sheep, and save on the farm call.KMC0013

Pilchuck Veterinary Clinic (a very large, large animal practice in Snohomish): still, their policy is this: nothing to do with sheep or goats except life-saving work in emergencies brought to their clinic. I pleaded, just a simple health check, ten minutes of your time… Nope.

Evergreen Holistic Veterinary in Monroe: I already knew from earlier discussions of their vegetarian-esque policy they would not treat sheep from my herd of meat animals. Due to ethical reasons, they tell me in a disapproving tone. ;-P But I thought this would be different, a ram going to a 4-Her to name, groom, love, handle, pamper and show. But, I wasn’t prepared for this question: will he be bred? Well, um, yes, I suppose so, that’s generally what 4-Hers do with sheep project animals.

Nixed again! In addition to their no-meat-eating policy, they apparently also have a strict no-breeding policy. Which must be inconsistently applied, because they’ve never demanded to know what I do with my intact Border Collies, and they are happy to take my money to treat those. It’s tempting, out of desperation to access basic veterinary care within a 100 mile radius, to just fib, and say, why yes, this is my pet sheep Edward, oh, he is such a wonderful and dear companion to me. Very tempting. <sigh> <open phone book>

The next closest large animal vet is an hour away, in Stanwood: Northwest Veterinary Clinic. The first thing that struck me is the phone representative getting scabies and scrapie confused. Not a good sign that the clinic is at all familiar with the ovine species. :-0 They didn’t know what an interstate shipping vet cert entailed, so they had to call me back a day later with the answer for how much they’d charge. The price for a certificate (with me bringing the sheep to their clinic): $98.80. Wowza!

Ok, so go north again, to Mt. Vernon Veterinary Hospital, over an hour away. This vet also had to get back to me. They apparently attempted to look it up, and thought they understood the requirements. But the phone representative there tried to inform me that I needed a scrapie test (I think misunderstanding the requirement for a scrapie tag). As far as I know, there is not yet a publicly available live-animal test for scrapie infection; I’m pretty sure diagnoses requires the severed head of the sheep in question. It conjured to mind some kind of Monty Python conversation with the buyer. You sent me a headless sheep! Why, he’s not headless, he’s resting! And, look, he’s confirmed scrapie-free! 😀 And their price (perhaps discounted since they would not have to examine the head) was only slightly more modest, $76 for an in-office call and health cert.

Ah, Forget It

And this all makes me question, Ok, so why am I paying so much money for a vet’s signature on this form if they really know less about sheep than I? Ironic, isn’t it?

So, around $100 for a few-hundred-dollar sheep to get a cert confirming it looks reasonably healthy. And we know with sheep, they could look healthy today and be dead tomorrow, so the certificate doesn’t provide strong reassurance of anything. Probably not something for which a buyer is going to be willing to pay $100. I certainly can’t “eat it” because that would mean I’d lose money on the sheep. I just wouldn’t sell to out-of-state people if I had to pay that. If that happens a lot, that’s bad for the sheep industry, since it would inhibit genetic diversity in breeding programs if sheep rarely crossed state lines. That’s nearly as bad as moving sick sheep inter-state and spreading disease.

KMC0010 I emailed my contact at the State Veterinarian office to whine, what are we gonna do? This kind of thing makes it hard for people to comply with the law, and leads to temptation to just ignore it. That’s not good for our industry, because it really is a best practice to ensure that only healthy-looking sheep are transported. I think given the general trend of attrition in the large agricultural animal veterinary profession, we may need the State Vet to help us with another solution. But of course, the State Vet office has experienced severe budget cuts since the recession hit, so it’s not likely they’ll have an answer either.

In the end, here’s what I concluded. I abide by the law by ensuring that every sheep that leaves my property and goes to non-slaughter channels has a scrapie tag. I inform the buyer of the interstate shipping laws. Whether they choose to abide by them is not in my control. So, if you ever see a sheep in in another state with our prefix on it, I can honestly say I have no knowledge of how it got there! 😀