Originally intended to educate the public on sheep and wool when established in 1973, the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival, Howard County, remains one of the longest running and biggest U.S. sheep event. John Wilkes reports.
FINE wool from UK heritage breeds was at the forefront. More than 30 breeds of sheep were represented, many of UK origin like Lincoln Longwool, Leicester Longwool, Border Leicester, Teeswater and Wensleydale.
Common amongst many US sheep breeders attending the festival was the expressed desire and need for fresh genetics from UK sheep.
Martin and Joy Dally operate Super Sire in Lebannon, Oregon and were involved with UK ovine genetic imports before the 2010 semen ban. When trade opportunities resumed in May 2016 they attempted to import UK genetics but were unable to obtain a US import certificate.
Ian McDougall of Farmgene, UK successfully collected semen from UK rams following the required 60-day pre-collection quarantine period. All mandated USDA blood tests were done and semen awaited shipment. However, an additional 60 days was added to the quarantine period which invalidated the entire semen batch the Dally’s had paid £14,000 to gather.
Mrs Dally said: “We currently have more rams in isolation in the UK and plan to collect late summer/early fall. The current ram selection includes fine wool and terminal sires and we have a long shopping list for our clients. We desperately need Longwool genetics in the U.S. like Gotland, Teeswater, Cotswold, Wensleydale, Lincolns and Kerry Hill.”
American clients are also looking for UK terminal sires, said Mrs Dally, “We would love to get some meat breeds in here.”
She described consistent demand for UK genetics after the US six-year import ban was lifted. “We get inquiries for British semen every day.”
The Dally’s are among several independent American and UK breeders with Texel, Suffolk and Charollais rams now in quarantine for US export.
Should proposed new USDA legislation allow export of UK embryos, Mrs Dally thinks initial interest will be significant. She said: “It would represent a substantial step forward for US breeding programmes.”
Sheep breeder Margaret Van Kemp, President of the US Bluefaced Leicester Union (Society) echoed the vital importance of UK genetics. Fresh genes from the UK would give her members a huge boost. She said: “We are getting into a genetic bottleneck. We are close to the point where we have no new genetics to go to.”
The last importation of UK Bluefaced Leceister semen to the US was in 2010 from four different sires. US breeders are well aware how the breed has developed in the UK during the intervening years and the quality of sheep now available.
She was keen to stress imported genetics would not be a one-way process and hoped US breeders could help preserve imported UK Bluefaced Leicester genes should they be needed again in the future. She said: “We would like to be a reservoir to preserve genetics in a two-way process.”