REPLYING TO a Defra consultation on the UK's sheep ageing protocols, NFU Scotland has strongly backed abandoning adult teeth eruption checking in favour of a simple, single, cut-off date of June 30.

According to the union, new protocols should use that date as the point at which any GB sheep born in the previous year would be regarded as being over 12 months, moving away from 'burdensome and costly method of mouthing sheep' for the purposes of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies control.

"The ageing issue is hugely important to Scottish producers because carcases of sheep which are regarded as 12 months or over are subject to costly carcase splitting which can bring a significant reduction in the price paid to the farmer or crofter," said NFUS. "The union has strongly backed the proposed method which would give farmers greater certainty about the value of their stock at the point of marketing them which would enable improved business management, with greater income certainty."

It stressed that the proposed method would significantly simplify the rules around sheep ageing as well as reducing the burden of red tape without compromising public or animal health, which were both priorities in NFU Scotland’s decision.

Livestock committee chair Jimmy Ireland said: “We were grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important consultation. This has come around following years of hard work from NFUS alongside other industry organisations such as NSA Scotland and the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland.

“It is particularly important that Scotland’s farmers and crofters were represented in this process as any changes in England and Wales will affect Scottish businesses due to the integration of the sheep sector in Great Britain, and we have argued for a single GB-wide approach," stressed Mr Ireland. “We are clear in our position that these changes would give sheep farmers throughout GB far greater certainty over the value of their sheep the time that they put them to the market, which would allow them to manage their businesses with more precision.

“The sheep industry must move away from the time-consuming need to physically check for dentition, removing this requirement will provide savings across the UK sheep supply chain.”