imageAs probably a lot of people now know, the USDA Scrapie Flock Certification Program (SFCP) has changed this year. Our country has nearly eradicated scrapie, and it’s time to shift to a different strategy for eliminating the remaining few sources and maintaining a clean status quo. Scrapie is the “mad cow” of the sheep industry. Though less of a concern as far as infecting humans with CJD, it’s of great economic concern to the industry because of its impact on productivity, and also the export market.

Previously, the APHIS took a multi-pronged approach to eliminating scrapie from our country. They did surveillance on culled/butchered animals, did live inspections of volunteer flocks, and required that all sheep moved from one location to another have a permanent ID for traceability of the disease. Through analysis, they have determined that the surveillance of cull animals is the most fruitful statistically. Live inspection is not a very good way to spot scrapie, after all. So, they are retaining the head surveillance piece; and also retaining the requirement for traceability of all sheep in the country. But, they are changing the volunteer flock participation program, so that now it’s now solely focused on the export market.

Scrapie tag from MontanaI like to be able to sell breeding stock to Canada, since I’m so close to the border, so I chose to remain in the program. The required record-keeping is something I already do, the yearly inspection is trivial for me. I don’t really mind submitting  heads for surveillance on culled and dead adult sheep either, it just takes a few minutes to box them up and ship them.

But, when I finally got around to reading the new program requirements in detail, I discovered a technicality which I can’t meet. Now, rams obtained from non-SFCP farms must be run separately from the ewes except during breeding season. This is new. I’m sure that whomever wrote the requirements was thinking of the standard sheep husbandry model, where indeed rams are sequestered all year, mostly because their behavior is too bad to let them be in a group. But I run my rams with the ewes most of the year, save July-October, when I don’t want them to breed the ewes. My rams get along fine with each other, with the ewes, and with lambs. So, it’s not worth the extra labor for me to segregate them during winter, or during lambing.

Double-tagged eweWhat’s disappointing about this requirement is that I have all scrapie-resistant rams, and don’t plan to use a “QQ” ram which is genetically-susceptible to scrapie. And, scrapie has never been prevalent in whiteface breeds anyway, of which Katahdins are considered one. It has always been found predominantly in the blackface populations. So there is no reason at all for me to limit rams’ contact with the rest of the flock; they will never have or get scrapie, let alone transmit it. So, I inquired.

It turns out, though this requirement is currently non-negotiable, there is a workaround I can use. I can go ahead and keep buying breeding rams from non-SFCP flocks. It re-sets my “start date” to the date I purchased the ram, so I will never achieve “export certified” status as long as I do this. But, this is OK, as Canada won’t require it: they’ll only require that you’re in the program, it doesn’t matter how long. (At least, that is the current prediction of how Canada’s program will change given how our program has changed). Right now, I don’t produce enough sheep to worry about exporting to other countries; but it is nice to be able to sell a few seed stock sheep to folks just a few hours away across the border.

The only drawback is that I won’t be able to sell ewes to flocks with “higher” SFCP status than me. They can still buy rams from me, as long as they meet the segregation rule. This is a trade-off I’ll have to accept. I don’t want to change the way I manage my sheep, and I don’t want to limit myself to only purchasing rams from other Export Monitored/Certified flocks, as there are too few of them. This compromise also allows me to buy ewes from non-SFCP flocks, which expands my options for bringing in new blood. So this is the path I’m going to stick with, for now, remaining in the program and letting my date re-set with each new sheep purchase.