New life for Herdwick flock hit by foot and mouth culls
Last updated at 21:00, Thursday, 05 May 2011
A Lorton farmer has more reason than most to be full of the joys of spring.
Andrew Nicholson, 39, of Swinside End Farm, lost 400 Herdwicks from his prize-winning flock during the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak which ravaged Cumbria.
But this month, six Herdwick lambs sired by frozen semen from rams slaughtered during the culls are bounding happily in the spring sunshine.
He said: “It’s good to see the lambs running about in the field. Because it has been such a success I think we will use more of the semen.
“It reminded us of what the flock was like and brought it all back to us.
“I hope they grow into good sheep.”
At the height of the crisis Mr Nicholson feared that one of Britain’s most important breeds could be culled to extinction.
He made a desperate call to Prof Dianna Bowles, a scientist at the University of York and an amateur sheep breeder. Within weeks she had raised money and mobilised a team of vets and farmers to collect and freeze sperm and embryos from vulnerable Herdwick sheep.
Sperm from one of his rams was collected before it was killed during the contiguous cull of 2001.
The sample was frozen for a decade and artificially inseminated into five of Mr Nicholson’s ewes, restoring bloodlines that would have been lost.
Mr Nicholson’s call to Prof Bowles also led to the first sheep gene bank in the UK and the foundation of The Sheep Trust, a national charity set up to protect species like the Herdwick.
At the height of foot and mouth, he had been told that he could save just 40 of his flock.
The rest of his 1,200 sheep were killed as part of the cull of uninfected farms.
Speaking on the 10-year anniversary of the crisis, Mr Nicholson said: “It was like choosing which family members you are going to take with you and which you are not.”
While not rare – there are around 60,000 Herdwicks – 95 per cent of the breed is found in Cumbria, which makes them massively vulnerable to disease.
Most Herdwicks live in a small area within 15 miles of Coniston.
During 2001, 35 per cent of the total breeding population was culled.
A Herdwick ram, or tup, can be worth tens of thousands of pounds.
A hardy breed, Herdwicks are ideally adapted to the Lake District and are thought to have been bred here for about 1,000 years.
First published at 19:25, Thursday, 05 May 2011
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk
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