Lost sheep

After two years of fighting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz in an effort to save my rare heritage flock of Shropshire sheep, CFIA issued a Notice to Destroy 41 of them they considered ‘susceptible’ to scrapie simply because of their genotype. The group includes 20 pregnant ewes and their unborn lambs, a few yearlings, and several rams.

Yesterday morning I went out to do chores before CFIA arrived, and the sheep were gone. CFIA was planning to haul them over 4 stressful hours to Machabee’s Deadstock and Animal Food plant near Ottawa, kill them and cut off their heads to test the obex brain tissue for signs of scrapie. CFIA claims they planned to dump the bodies in a landfill, not into pet food. I was and am still protesting the order, and arranged a #SaveOurShrops Rally to coincide with their arrival. Originally they were to be buried in a huge grave that CFIA had ordered dug here on the farm at the top of the hill, then changed their minds because they didn’t want to euthanize the sheep and behead them in public view. Whoever took them has given them a reprieve…for that I am glad. I don’t want anyone else to risk fines or charges, but they seem to have been acting with best intentions.

None of my flock have tested positive for scrapie in live biopsies, but CFIA claims the 85% accuracy rate is not enough, and want to kill them to test the obex brain tissue. None of my sheep show any clinical symptoms of the disease.

I’ve made my position to #SaveOurShrops very public on this site, and the Save Our Shrops Facebook page. Clearly from the 5,000 and climbing petition signatures there are many others that feel same way. There have been suggestions over the last few months that the sheep succumb to “coyotes”, or they “accidentally” escape through the rickety cedar rail fenceline, or that somebody might “steal” the sheep a la Wallace and Grommit.

I hope the flock is alive and safe, and whoever has them has some sheep experience. From the note they left it seems that they are advocates for my cause. But it’s important for them to know the sheep need to remain in isolation without contacting other sheep. We don’t have any proof of scrapie, but I’ve been adhering to the monitoring and quarantine regulations for 2 years and don’t wish that status to be compromised.

To whoever is caring for the sheep: A few of them need a little extra attention as they are due to have lambs soon, and the older Fitz can not be kept with the other rams but can be kept with the pregnant girls…monitor him and any others who may need supplemental grain to maintain body condition. Make sure there is no copper in any feed or minerals because it’s toxic to sheep. Separate ewes in a lambing pen so they have a few days to bond with their babies. They will benefit from second cut alfalfa timothy hay as they need the extra calcium right now before lambing. Please find an experienced shepherd to help look after them.

My main goal has been for the Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz to implement a Heritage Breed Exemption to the current CFIA Scrapie Protocol which would protect and conserve the genetic diversity of all rare heritage breeds in Canada, not just the Shropshires.

I am in support of eradicating scrapie in Canada, however there is no evidence that any exists in my flock. CFIA ordered them destroyed based merely on the “suspicion” of being contaminated. They have declined all alternative risk-control measures proposed by myself and my lawyer, Karen Selick of the Canadian Constitution Foundation. My proposal below supports the objective of finding evidence of any scrapie, and at the same time preserves Canada’s heritage Shropshire sheep.

1. The pregnant ewes must be allowed birth and raise their lambs to weaning.

2. Semen must be collected for future artificial insemination before the rams are destroyed for testing.

3. Must be permitted to retain 11 breeding flock of the most historically significant genetics in continued quarantine and scrapie monitoring

4. Will sacrifice the remainder of the sheep on the destruction order for obex testing.

5. The male’s testes and female’s ovaries must be harvested (when ewes follicular levels are higher—not when pregnant) and germplasm cryogenically banked for future replication by CAGR (Canadian Animal Genetic Resources).

6. Must be present during on-farm premises obex removal, and retain a tissue sample of each for blind re-testing by their lab should CFIA have a positive scrapie test result.

7. The Wholearth flock must be buried on Wholearth Farmstudio.

8. Proper and just compensation for all sheep under quarantine, their future lambs, and the last 2+ years in quarantine

Montana Jones
Montana is a watcher of whales, saver of turtles, wayfarer and shepherd. She is a writer, photographer, art farmist and was formerly a magazine art director, media coordinator, journalist and past winner of the Sutton Agricultural Fair Spelling Bee. She tends an oversized garden, eats real food and raises Shropshire sheep and other heritage livestock on Wholearth Farmstudio in Northumberland County, Ontario Canada. She received a CBC Literary Award, Ontario Arts Council Writer’s Reserve Grant, and has appeared in EnRoute, Mind’s Eye, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Canadian Women Studies Literary Journal, Watershed Magazine and Edible Toronto.

4 thoughts on “Lost sheep

  1. Montana, I am speechless as to how this all happened in the first place, but feel comfort in knowing they may very well be alive and free for the time being. I feel our prayers have been answered, by any means possible. I’m sorry for any heartache and exhaustion you must be feeling. We’re all here for you. xo

  2. I too hope the sheep are well and still being quarantined. You have worked so hard to keep the healthy and safe. May the powers that be not be antagonized but take a deep breathe and re-consider their plans to euthanize. My heart is ever with you and these beautiful sheep.

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