‘The daggers isn’t the answer for dirty sheep’

The Clean Livestock Policy (CLP) for sheep has become a major point of contention of late. Although the policy was introduced in 2016, its full implementation was deferred until this year.

Many farmers, who have delivered sheep to factories recently, will be aware that some processors are turning away sheep which fall into Category C (unacceptable for slaughter); others have introduced short-term solutions, such as shearing before they go up the line.

The fall out over the policy reached a climax earlier this week when Kepak decided to suspend processing for a number of hours on Monday morning.

Also, earlier this week, AgriLand exclusively revealed that 7% of the sheep presented for slaughter during the first full week of implementation were non-compliant with the policy.

Understanding the policy

To help farmers identify lambs that are satisfactory (Category A), acceptable (Category B) or unacceptable (Category C) for slaughter, Kepak held two demonstrations earlier this week in its plant in Athleague, Co. Roscommon.

At the event, farmers were shown examples of the three categories of sheep and the points that farmers need to look out for when presenting their lambs for slaughter.

The farmers in attendance were told that the CLP is taking priority over the value of the hide; if an animal needs remedial work to comply with the policy, it must be carried out before arriving at the lairage.

The real challenge we’re having is that the farmer thinks the daggers is actually going to do the job.

“It takes a shears to leave Category C sheep allowable for slaughter. The daggers is not actually able to get the lamb clean enough.

“Lambs that have been clipped with a daggers have been turned up in processing plants and there’s still dirty wool present on the belly,” a Kepak representative said.

The importance of having a sheep clean ante-mortem was also emphasised; particularly around the cut line, which runs from the neck, down the belly and finishes at the tail.

Category A

These are sheep with a clean and dry fleece that can be slaughtered, with an unacceptable risk of contaminating the meat during the slaughter process, by using the standard hygienic dressing procedures routinely employed by the plant.

“When we turn over a Category A sheep, we are sure that we will find nice, clean, uncontaminated wool.”

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Category B

Sheep in this category are classified as having a moderate soiling of fleece that can only be slaughtered, without an unacceptable risk of contamination of the meat during the slaughter process, by putting in place additional interventions. This includes extra defined dressing controls.

A Kepak representative said Category B lambs may appear clean when upright. But, when turned over, they often have a dirty belly or tail.

“Dags near the tail is a real area that vets looks at when they are decided which category a sheep will fall into. Clay and muck dags around the sheep’s tail are big problems.

“It may be a snow-white sheep when it’s standing up. But, when you turn it up, it’s dirty underneath,” he said.

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Category C

These are sheep with a heavily-contaminated fleece unfit for slaughter. These sheep must not be presented for ante-mortem in this condition and it is the responsibility of the FBO (food business operator) to take the required remedial action.

The sheep’s fleece is wet and contaminated with dirt. It’s often a problem with lambs that were fed meal while at pasture. Remedial action (partial shearing) is required for these animals to pass a veterinary inspection prior to slaughter.

Sheep with long wool also require particular attention. Even if the farmer has partially clipped the sheep, the overhanging wool may result in the lamb being classified as a Category C animal.

Click on a thumbnail in the gallery (below) to open up a full-size image; once opened you can scroll sideways to see the next picture.

‘Teagasc must intervene’

Following the demonstration, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s (ICSA’s) John Brooks said it’s time for Teagasc to advise on different systems of fattening lambs and prepping them for slaughter if the way sheep farmers have been doing it for decades is suddenly no longer acceptable under the policy.

“Distinguishing Category A sheep is straightforward enough. However, confusion arises as sheep in categories B and C are virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Moreover, a Category B sheep on a dry day would be deemed Category C on a wet day. We know Teagasc researchers have been fattening lambs and finishing them out using a variety of systems.

“ICSA would like to know if Teagasc has done any CLP scoring on the different systems given that this policy has been on the cards for a number of years now. If they have, I would urge them to publicise those findings.”

At this point, he said, farmers need advice on possibly changing elements of their systems and their preparations for slaughter, rather than have all these lambs deemed unsuitable at the point of slaughter.

“The policy has resulted in lambs either being shorn on-site or being removed from plants for shearing at nearby facilities before returning to factory lairages, where they are left shivering until they can be processed.

This is unacceptable from an animal welfare perspective and, indeed, may well impact the kill-out weight, as well as the meat quality. In any event, all financial repercussions of this unworkable policy are then being passed on to the producer.

“In addition, our understanding is that internal lists of sheep farmers whose stock has been turned away are being compiled. ICSA would have questions as to what are the implications for anyone appearing on that list or how that information will be shared,” he said.