An Aberdeenshire farming couple has become the first to export any type of breeding stock to Europe since Brexit, and, by air.

Against all the odds, Irene Fowlie and her husband Jim, have exported pedigree Suffolk sheep from their high index, performance recorded Essie flock in a marathon ordeal involving numerous international heads, veterinarians and screeds upon screeds of paperwork.

The sale of sheep, 36 in total to include four rams, is also believed to be the first to to Georgia, and the first to be delivered to Europe this year following the live export ban between the UK and EU.

Last week, international livestock haulier, Andrew Ewing transported the Essie sheep down from the Fraserburgh-based farm to Stansted which were then flown out to Georgia in two double crates, within hours of arriving at the airport.

While it took no time for the sheep to fly from Stanstead to their new home in Tibilisi, Georgia, the export was a good five months in the making.

Initially, Salome Abesadze, head of foreign procurement department of Adjara Group LLC, made contact with Irene looking to purchase 50 females and five males. However, with no export agreement between the UK and Georgia and no Border Control Posts open for sheep to travel by road from the UK through the EU and onwards to Georgia, it was always going to be daunting project.

Getting round Georgia's health requirements which were eventually sent through to APHA in May was another marathon, after APHA originally pointed out that an Export Health Certificate 'can take years.'

The usual health requirements for exporting sheep to Europe appeared immaterial too.

"There were so many diseases on the list that had to be tested for – some of which I had not heard of – and the tests, which were costed by our vet, were considerable," Irene said.

"It was particularly disappointing as the Essie flock has been Scrapie Monitored for more than seven years and is MV accredited. We have had no incidence of Blue Tongue, living so far north. We also have had rams tested clear for TB for exporting semen to US."

Negotiating air transport was another major hurdle and and after measuring the height and weight of the sheep, numbers had to be reduced to 36 because of the cost.

Eventually an Export Health Certificate appeared in June, however, it was short lived as a team of lawyers appeared with an impossible contract, which they finally conceded to within days of the 21 days of quarantine due begin.

A Travel log, customs documentation and a road transporter with a Type 2 Licence and satellite tracking also had to be arranged.

However, after much ado, the sheep were flown out in double crates with feed and water. They left Stansted on Friday, July 23, travelled to Masstricht in the Netherlands and soon after departed for Istanbul in Turkey where they were let off to rest. They arrived in Tibilisi in Georgia on Saturday morning.

The sheep have been sold to the Adjara Group LLC – one of the most prestigious group companies in Georgia involved in hospitality, gambling and agriculture.

Their agriculture business is based in Sagaredjo, Kakhetian region of Georgia, which is made up of plant cultivation business (almonds, berries, some vegetables and vine) as well as farming (mediterranean buffalos imported from Italy and alpine goats also imported from Italy).

The Adjara Group also plans to build a hotel complex in the same area which will be supplied by its own agricultural products from a show farm for the guests of the hotel complex.

Georgia has a very old sheep industry with sheep bred for wool, cheese making and meat. With the purchase of pedigree Suffolk sheep, The Adjara Group also hopes to promote the breed throughout the country for its superior growth and meat characteristics.

Essie Suffolk sheep were sought after due to their high indecies and the fact that the majority of sheep are in the top 1% of UK performance recorded Suffolks for EBVs for growth, conformation and maternal traits. Salome, the international buyer also liked the appearance of the Essie sheep on the Fowlie's website and facebook page.

Commenting on the sale, Irene added: "It has definitely been a very emotional series of events, I was just so relieved to hear all the WhatsApp messages coming through on my phone at 5.35am on Saturday morning to say that they had arrived safely in Tibilisi."