Animal Aid

FOOT AND MOUTH - The suffering of sheep didn't start here

Posted 22 March 2001

The following statement has been issued by Animal Aid:

A Cumbrian farmer on Breakfast With Frost, 18 March 01:

"Our little lambs - they've only been born a week. They didn't ask to come into the world and they didn't ask to be slaughtered"

"Would anybody in the city like their cat or guinea pig slaughtered?".

This poor farmer appears to have been labouring for years under the misconception that her lambs are pets. When she drops them off at the market and pockets the profit, she must imagine them gambolling about in 'a good home'. Like the schoolchildren she describes, in tears as they pass rotting piles of carcasses, she is having the reality of slaughter - either for food or to maintain the profit margins of the industry - brought quite literally home to her.

But Animal Aid doesn't believe in her ignorance. She must surely know from her own farming press, that 20% of lambs die within a few days of birth, mainly from neglect, exposure and malnutrition. She must also appreciate that the survivors are shipped off for slaughter, aged three to ten months, perhaps to an exotic destination such as Greece or Spain.

It is sheep farmers - not 'ignorant' townies, the government, the supermarket, nor 'bogus asylum seekers' - who have produced the massive increase in UK sheep numbers over the past decade and a half, greedily claiming EU subsidies in the process. They then send their 'surpluses' on marathon live export journeys.

It is now common, as a result of the use of drugs, for ewes to lamb three times within a two year period. Lambing now commonly begins in November and continues through the harshest weather until the traditional Easter lambs are seen gambolling in spring fields. There is a national shortage of shepherds, recognised by the industry, and it is far from unusual - though the tearful farmers televised during the FMD crisis might not admit it - for ewes to be left to give birth alone in snow or frozen mud. No wonder roughly one million breeding animals die in the fields every year.

It is also common for farmers to ensure, through the use of selective breeding and feeding regimes,the birth of twins or triplets. Indeed, if ewes do not produce twins, farmers often consider them to have failed and to be a case for culling. It is physically impossible for a sheep to feed triplets - she does not have three teats. So a ewe whose lamb has died soon after birth may be restrained in a forced adoption device, while the 'extra' lamb feeds from her, until the adult learns to accept this unnatural behaviour.

Winter shearing is now a recommended practice. Industry literature promotes the principle that a cold sheep will eat more and will gain market weight more rapidly.

As indicated above, four million new-born lambs and one million adult sheep succumb each year to the harsh treatment they endure at the hands of farmers. The farmers' response, oft repeated in industry journals, is to shift the blame onto their victims: 'Sheep have a will to die,' they will say. 'If they can find a way to die, they will.'

Notes to Editors

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