Scrapie Reading, Part II

tagHere is the rest of the story on my final decision-making regarding scrapie programs. It turns out there is a lot written on scrapie and both the NSEP and SFCP, the information is spread out all over the place and not easy to find or understand. At first, I didn’t understand that there are two programs, so I found the phone number for my state veterinarian’s office, dialed them up and naively said “hi, I need some information on enrolling in the scrapie program.” Fortunately, I was immediately connected to Stacy Wozniak, one of the NSEP/SFCP coordinators in our state, and she was immensely helpful, and patient with my long email lists of questions. When she didn’t know the answer to a question, she found the expert who did. Over a couple of months, we got all my questions answered, and I was finally able to make an educated decision on what I wanted to do!  I should also mention that Stacy was supportive and did not push me towards either option, but rather let me draw my own conclusions on what was right for me.


Here are some of the questions I had to consider. First, I realized, if your only concern is to maintain flock health, and you don’t care about USDA regulations, you don’t have buyer perception concerns, and money is not an issue, you could do a fine job of managing scrapie risk solely by using DNA testing in your flock. I’ll get to DNA testing more later. But, suffice to say, it looks like it’s entirely possible to manage scrapie in your flock by buying the right breeding animals in the first place, and using DNA testing as a tool to make sure your flock stays scrapie resistant. Doing this, you could give yourself close to 100% odds of not having scrapie in your herd. The Wensleydale folks are having good success with this concept in their entire breed by limiting ram registration to only RR animals-wow, what a great leadership role they are taking on this front! Given this, there is an argument that could say “I don’t need any stinkin’ government program to eliminate scrapie in my flock (or breed).” 


But, this reasoning didn’t work for me for three reasons. For one, the DNA testing can get expensive and encroach on profitability. Two, I already have animals that didn’t come to me with DNA information, so likely I’m not starting off with the right animals to build a resistant flock quickly. And third, there is consumer perception: many buyers care to know that you’re “playing by the rules.” This led me to quickly decide I wanted to enroll in one of the two programs (and maybe use DNA testing on a limited basis in addition).


But, which program? The overhead of the record keeping and inspections involved with the SFCP is not a deterrent to me- I’m already keeping good records in my cool sheep management software solution. But, I did have some concerns about the restrictiveness of the SFCP. I only have seven sheep now, and I know I probably want a larger flock. But I don’t know how much larger yet. If it turns out that I’ll eventually want 100 head, I’m probably going to need to bring in more ewes to make that happen, and not have an inbred mess of a flock. But, there are very few SFCP Katahdin breeders near me. Would that be limiting my options too much if I could only buy future breeding stock from them?


I wrestled with this, but finally decided it’s ok. I can still bring in non-SFCP rams, so that gives me some room to maintain genetic diversity. Since I do have a few people within driving distance from whom I can buy, at least the option is there if I need it. And, worst case, if I decided that some non-SFCP ewes were a must-have, I’d just have to re-start my clock to zero upon obtaining them, and that’s not the end of the world. Just being enrolled in the SFCP is valuable marketing-wise in itself, and apparently it’s allowed to re-start your clock as often and as many times as you choose. And, if I end up not needing to bring in non-SFCP ewes, my clock will be further along than if I wait several years and then decide to enroll.


My other question was whether I could take my sheep to shows or rent them out to herding trials. It was hard to find the answer, but the answer is a limited “yes.” The important thing is that you keep a barrier between your sheep and other sheep to limit fence-to-fence contact, and make sure they are on clean bedding (to prevent the possibility of them being on old bedding that could have birthing fluids on it). This “limited contact” is ok, but “commingling” is not.


I also had some confusion about the rules regarding rams. The wording in the SFCP is very confusing, in some places, it implies that a ram coming from a non-SFCP flock would downgrade your status; but it turns out, that’s not the case. I’m still a little confused about the details of this, but I think the ram has his own status, so he doesn’t “inherit” your SFCP status when you buy him (such that he would get upgraded) but he also doesn’t downgrade your status either. The only exception would be if it were ever found that he was previously exposed, then he would downgrade your status back to zero. So, even with rams, it’s probably still desirable to purchase from another SFCP breeder. I have a year or two before I need to think about that, however, since I can keep using the ram I have.


So, I decided to go for it, and enroll in the SFCP. The next complication was figuring out whether I need to re-tag the sheep I have. Two have lost their tags, and the rest have a mix of three different kinds of tags. Stacy and I were able to deduce that two of the tag styles are the new “tamper evident” style that’s now required, so they are OK. But, the third tag style is not, so that sheep needs to be re-tagged (with her original tag also left intact for traceability back to her flock of origin).


My order for the free tags and tagger is on the way. I plan to order some different colored tags for this year’s lambs (I have to pay for these, but they’re cheap). I’ve learned from other farms that it’s nice to be able to tell apart age groups at a glance by tag color, so that’s my plan for the future, is a new color each year (and a new numbering system as well- this year’s lambs will all be 0900-something for the year 2009). 


The other tip I learned from Shirley, who sold me four sheep, is to wait to enroll in either scrapie program until you have been assigned a flock ID from the breed registry (if you are registering your sheep). If you have this, the scrapie program will use your state abbreviation and flock initials on your tags, rather than a randomly-assigned, and hard-to-remember number. This was a great piece of advice. So, since our flock ID is KMC, now our SFCP ID will be WAKMC- easy! Thanks Shirley!


Once I have them all properly tagged, then I must provide an updated inventory list, schedule an inspection, and then we are on our way!

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