SCOTLAND'S CROFTERS are not happy with the new QMS farm assurance requirement of an annual vet visit.

The new rule comes into force this week, on April 1, and will thereafter require a vet to physically visit each croft or farm wishing to gain or maintain quality assured status.

At a recent online meeting, crofters stated they did not see the need for a vet to visit every flock of sheep each year. Russell Smith of Drumbhan croft, near Bonar Bridge, said: “Many of our small sheep producers generally don’t need a vet call out. Most sheep treatments we are able to do ourselves on the croft so we don’t need the extra cost of a vet call out.”

On Russell's croft they sell just over 100 lambs per year and he reckoned a vet visit would cost him at least £100. When combined with the farm assurance fee of £110 plus VAT, that put more than £2 extra in costs for every lamb sold. Russell is keen to point out that on smaller flocks these vet and assurance fees would be similar, and the added cost could then amount to over £4 per lamb.

“Many crofters are only getting £60-£70 per lamb and maybe selling less than 30 animals a year,” explained the Scottish Crofting Federation director. “I would say SCF supports high welfare standards and assurance schemes are the way to demonstrate them. But we believe if there is a farm assurance assessor on farm each year that should be enough and a vet is not needed every year for smaller flocks.”

QMS said that it understood the significance of this to crofters and smaller businesses, so its animal health and welfare specialist Eilidh Corr would be running workshops in person in the coming weeks to support crofters and answer any questions directly.

A QMS spokesperson said: “We recognise this may be a challenge for small enterprises, however, to maintain equivalence and continuity of our assurance schemes versus the rest of the UK, which already require an annual veterinary visit, it is necessary.

“This allows vets to offer detailed bespoke professional advice on biosecurity, health, and welfare. This also supports access to medicines – there is a requirement for animals to be demonstrably 'under the care of' a veterinary surgeon for prescribing to take place legally.

“This visit can take place for clinical reasons, and is not necessarily specific to the health plan, so a vet attending for any reason during the year, for example to undertake trace element screening or to investigate a disease problem, this would satisfy the standard. For crofters, such visits are currently subsidised," added QMS.

“Although this requirement was introduced back in 2020, a dispensation was offered to allow time for affected members to incorporate it into their practice, with it only being implemented from April 1, 2022. “