How endangered are Shropshire sheep?

Shropshire sheep breeders
Shropshire sheep breeders, and their sheep. Photo from http://bit.ly/sFGklu

You may have seen stories in the past week or so of a flock of Shropshire sheep that authorities in Canada have threatened with destruction. The sheep belong to Montana Jones, who raises them at her Wholearth Farm, near Hastings in Peterborough. Five years ago she sold a ewe to a farmer in Alberta, and that sheep has been diagnosed with scrapie. As a result, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wants to destroy other animals from the same flock who are infected or suspected of being infected.

One problem for Montana Jones is that the test “is only about 85% accurate”. So the sheep that tested positive may not have scrapie, although I have no idea what that 85% figure actually means. False positives? False negatives? What?

It is a long time since I last had to get my ahead around scrapie, the risks to humans (it is not “mad sheep disease”), the different breed susceptibilities, and the different approaches to eradication. All of those are important issues, I am sure. What concerns me about Montana Jones’ case is whether the appeal to the rarity of Shropshire sheep justifies not taking the precaution of slaughtering some of the flock.

Of course it is heart-breaking to lose animals you have lavished care on, especially when you feel that the action is not justified. But while Shropshires may be very rare in Canada, with all kinds of historical attachments, they are in pretty reasonable shape elsewhere, for example at their home in the UK. (Here is a wool nut’s view of the UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s rankings.) I wonder, too, how much genetic diversity the Canadian flocks represent. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone were able to genemap all the Shropshires around the world, in order to be able to show the CFIA just what we would be losing if they go ahead with their plan to cull half of Montana Jones’ flock?

By all means go ahead and sign the petition to save those Shropshires, but consider, too, that evidence of their genetic importance might just carry more weight.

16 Replies to “How endangered are Shropshire sheep?”

  1. “they are in pretty reasonable shape elsewhere”

    Not in New Zealand.

    Not in Australia.

    Here’s a bit of history about the Shropshire in Canada. It would seem that the genetics in her flock date to 1864. Might there be more to it than just a historical attachment? Perhaps Montana can be enticed to provide more on the genetic significance of her flock.

    1. I thought I was suggesting that indeed there might be more to it than historical attachement — but that we don’t know. wouldn’t it be great if all the Shropshire breeders in the ex-colonies could get together, map the diversity in their flocks, look at the clustering, and then arrange embryo or semen transfers to increase the heterozygosity of Shropshires everywhere?

  2. Heritage Shropshires are indeed rare and endangered internationallly. The fact that American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has them listed as “recovering” is quite misleading as the modern American Shropshire is not even remotely like the traditional original Shropshire sheep of their homeland in the United Kingdom. Perhaps ALBC will change that to specify the difference. maybe they don’t even know? and are just looking at stats but not the animals in question. All the old time expert breeders agree the show specimens in the United States that raised as club lambs and touted as Shropshires look suspiciously like Oxford/Hamp/Suffolk/Shropshire crosses. They are long-legged, long necked, huge ears, don’t have the depth of body or width of loin that a true Shropshire has. Sure they are nice sheep…not Shropshires. There ARE still a few heritage Shropshire breeders in the United States…if there are more I want to hear from them please!

    1. Yeah, have to agree with you, the modern U.S. Shrops don’t look much like the old style Shropshire. (There used to a breeder near Minesing Ontario, but the flock was long ago dispersed.) It’s nice to see traditional Brit style Suffolks making a come-back, but they don’t need the help that Shropshires do. If anything, Ag. Canada should be expending resources to PRESERVE rare breeds. Interestingly, Shropshire genetics factored strongly in the development of the hardy and prolific Outaouais Arcott sheep. (ARCOTT is an acronym for Agricultural Research Centre, Ottawa, where the breed was developed.) If we want to be able to create these kind of hybrids in the future, we’ve got to preserve the base stock.

      1. Anyone reading this should be aware that Jones refused the CFIA’s offer to save her genetics by breeding her QQ ewes to an RR ram, and saving all QR offspring she wanted. I would say that was an attempt to preserve a rare breed. Also, there are hardly any Outaouais Arcotts left; there are tons of Rideau Arcotts and Canadian Arcotts, though. I know, I raise Canadian Arcotts. I also raise Shropshires. The breed is still alive, and can thrive again. Unfortunately, they have a pretty big stigma attached in Canada now, the demand is not that great. But we keep plugging away.

  3. In new Zealand in fact the world the Shropshire sheep are very rare the gene pool is running very low .The problem with this is once they are gone they are well gone .
    No one knows what the future holds for the world and how we grow food and farm .It may well be that these old less adulterated breeds of livestock survive where the modern ones fold .It is extremely important to hold and continue to farm these old heritage breeds .

    John Earney
    Avonstour Heritage Farm
    RD 25 Stratford Taranaki
    (06) 762.7992 or rarebreeds@paradise.net.
    Visit our websites- http://www.rarebreeds.co.nz/avonstour.html for livestock
    http://www.avonstour.co.nz for Film industry props, meat eggs and courses.

    Good Food – Good Life

  4. The issue of how rare Montana’s sheep are or how rare the genetics are is simply not able to be determined for a number of reasons. Montana has not regstered sheep for a bout 5 years (just how dedicated is she to saving the breed?) and she does not want to tell what the genetics are of the sheep being ordered destroyed and the ones not being ordered destroyed. She has also been offered an opportunity to maintain at least a portion of the genetics of the animals slated for destruction, via matings with RR rams. I have also offered her other information and options but she would rather just use her sob story and only use a portion of the facts. The CFIA requested information from her, which she has refused to give. If that information had been given and trace outs done, if her flock is as free of scrapie as she says, they wuld have found nothing in trace out live tests and thus the portion of her flock slated for destruction would not have been ordered destroyed. Why does she refuse to give trace out information? Does she have something to hide? On her site, she moderates any comments and only allows the ones she likes to be seen. I have asked a number of questions in the comments and she refuses to post them, she also has posted either outright false information or at the very least omits some facts. For example, that the ewe diagnosed with scrapie was 14 months old when sold from her place, and the ewe died at a under 4 years of age. She also neglects the fact that the flock in which the scrapie positive ewe was found had been doing dead stock surveillance for more than 3 years prior to the death of this ewe, with no other positives. She also wants people to believe that all her Shropshires live to a ripe old age, but neglects to tell the fate of the dam and grand dam of the scrapie positive ewe. Neither lived very long. I could list a whole lot more, but that is not necessary. My point is that if one only looks at part of the story, it sounds atrocious, what CFIA is doing, however if one looks at all the facts, it is a different picture. Her quest to save her sheep could very well be signing a death warrant for a lot more Shropshires in Canada. If she is so sure she doesn’t have and that no sheep from her flock has ever had scrapie (she seems to forget where the scrapie positive ewe originated, check out the facts on scrapie transmission and you will see why CFIA is questioning the live test results) then why refuse to allow trace outs (which would only be tested using a live test, unless any of them are scrapie positive)? The fact that she had not been keeping up registrations and had not been selling registered breeding stock for a few years prior to the quarantine, does little to add credibility to her quest.

  5. Patrick:
    As you know from our many conversations over the last few years, I am so sorry that a sheep was found positive for scrapie on your Alberta farm. I tried to rally for you and save them. Was hard to do from here, and then you gave in to them…I understand how you could. It’s a tough fight. I’m surprised I’m still standing. I don’t have much else to lose. You know some of what I am going through with the CFIA. You yourself told me you blocked them every step of the way and still may take them to court.

    What you DON’T know is much else about the actual facts of what is going on with the case here in Ontario at my farm. I’m sorry for your sour grapes…not really certain of why you have them, except you did express anger that some people had commented on the sanitation and management of your farm on the http://ShropshireSheep.org website. You are free to write a rebuttal to them if you disagree. I didn’t make comment—others did.

    And I have offered you several times the opportunity to make a timeline of events as you see them and said I would post on your behalf. I’ve suggested you send me anything you view as a discrepancy and I would address it. You have not.

    You’re going on in your comments about ages of ewes and surveillance etc and it has no relevance to anybody until you put it in a paragraph and make some clear concise statements of fact. Do that, as I have already offered, and I’d be happy you post your thoughts and views on the http://ShropshireSheep.org website.

    Your other points are not based in any actual fact. I’m happy to address any and all, but you need to start with something, not make things up as you go along. For instance, what “other information and options” did you ever offer?

    You say I could have “maintained at least a portion of the genetics of the animals slated for destruction, via matings with RR rams.” but again, do you know that for a fact? No…you don’t know all the facts. First, I don’t have an RR ram, and it may well be impossible to find one with heritage characteristics for the 1929 breed standard of excellence I work to. Of course I could try..and would, except that CFIA offered to do that (then kill the ewes) only if I would LIE and sign a paper saying I had an infected premises. They said they had NO PROOF that I had an infected premises, they only ‘suspected’ I might because the scrapie infected sheep found on your farm was born here. Asked if that sheep could have become infected on your farm they answered a resounding YES. But they couldn’t find the source, so they came back here, and still couldn’t find the source. So I was not about to lie and say my premises was infected just to suit their paperwork, when they have been unable to find any evidence it actually is.

    I have offered various alternatives to work with CFIA to find out without a doubt if there is indeed any scrapie here on this farm.

    Again, you know NOTHING about the facts…nor why that dam did not live long…you are maliciously spreading very selective mis-information. And whatever makes you think I’m “refusing to allow trace outs.”? Where did you get that from? As for registrations, the lapsed registrations are all still recorded and filed, and will be brought up to date. But when a government agency knocks you down mid-stride and enforces a quarantine, takes away the sheep income from breeding stock that in turn pays for those very registrations, the registrations have to wait. It’s not like the sheep were going anywhere! I don’t have the animal movement on my farm that a livestock dealer such as yourself had..it’s pretty much a closed flock and has been for years.
    Again, your last dart illustrates you don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve always been an advocate of keeping up the registrations, because without them, we will lose track of the genetics. Even then…that system is still unsupervised and there are breeders that can make up what they want…isn’t that right Patrick?

  6. Patric,
    The story above, like most on the internet including other publications is written by Linda Francis “Montana” Jones. Her legal name is not Montana. She uses “Montana” because she cannot reveal her legal name. Shropshire Sheep Dot Org is OWNED by Jones. It’s all biased to suite her. It also plants computer viruses onto any pc that visits the site. Linda Francis “Montana” Jones has a long line of disgruntled people looking for her.

    1. Sortebelle (aka Steele aka Lorri and Patric)

      If you have a direct concern or issue you should state it so those targeted can respond if they decide it’s valid or wish to take the time to do so. Its a sad fact that the downside of open internet opinion boards is that a few individuals will rise up and post comments based on not really knowing anything about the facts, and serve only to confuse further. Your comments in particular are so irrelevant that I’m shaking my head in disbelief here. Mostly as it makes you look….well…not exactly intelligent. Why not post your name? I do.
      So to address your concerns….Of COURSE I own http://ShropshireSheep.org. Thats no secret Sherlock. I have also invited Patric and others over and over and over again to let me know if he has spotted any errors and I would address them.
      And why wouldn’t I/couldn’t I “reveal” my real name? That’s no secret either. Everybody I know (and care about ) knows Montana is a Nickname…for the last 28 years. Sorry I didn’t let you know personally. And your virus rumour is just pure nonsense…get your facts straight..and you spelled my name wrong. I will add a word of caution here to you too, similar to the advice Patric Lyster received from another poster, about libel. Have a nice day.

      1. Much as we enjoy hosting your little arguments here, you do have other places to take this, I’m sure. We’re happy to get the traffic, but even our patience has limits.

        As for what Montana calls a “virus rumour,” I can confirm that I get a warning from my browser when I visit that page, that the page contains malware. So if anyone is responsible for the rumour, it isn’t Sortebelle.

  7. Jeremy if you could please re-check the site and send me a link to where you might have seen the malware warning? If its not right will correct immediately…our tech says it all checks out super clean…thanx

  8. I agree there are other places, but I also believe that if you wish to allow Montana Jones to post her views and information without checking the facts, then others should be given the same opportunity. Ms. Jones continues to use false information on her site, even her lawyer issued erroneous information in a press release, they have also warned me about defamation of character, but seem to have backed off when they realized that the truth is a defense against a lwasuit. Now Ms. Jones wishes to continue with her insinuations about me and perhaps if you check it out, the one who needs to be worried about libel, is Ms. Jones.
    Ms. Jones also seems to have problems understanding the meaning of aka, as Sortebelle is not myself or Lorri.

  9. Can I ask where if any breeders are in the us and possibly there contact information I’m not much conserned on who’s at fault or not at fault or the details of such i belive the loss of the flock is tragic either way there was a loss of good genetics that could be used I have sold all of my “show sheep ” and would like to continue to raise sheep and preserve old genetics as well ! Any help would be approciated !

  10. Just for a change in tone, some reminiscences about growing up with Shropshires from 1959 to 1964, when I was 8 to 13 years old, before I went to boarding school.
    We had Shrops that were not long necked and not long legged. They didn’t have the open faces of Hampshires, but their eyes were mostly, but not completely, unobstructed. We had a hobby farm, not a serious commercial enterprise, and we had about 30 – 40 sheep. My brother and I fed them, cleaned the barn, and took care of the 10-15 barn cats required to get rid of the rats that were there when our parents bought the farm. We named them and knew all of their names, including each generation of lambs. Some of them would disappear when they got big, and we got the fable, when we had lamb on the table, that the other farmers would trade their lambs for ours, so that no one would be eating their own pets.
    We liked our sheep a lot. They were sweet but not very smart. We and they used to like it when, after we put down fresh straw in the barn, we would lie down next to them and put our heads on them like pillows. “Sleeping on a lambie is like sleeping on a cloud.”
    Our dogs got along great with the sheep, but were not sheepdogs, just housepets. And of course the barn cats were always around in the barn.
    We had an old ewe named “Belle” who reliably lambed each year, even into the time when her muzzle hair had turned gray, and her bleat was similar to the voices of those older women who call into radio talk shows and have obviously been smoking for 50 years.
    We used to show the sheep at local fairs, and won a few prizes, and I still have some pictures of my brother and me looking like awkward pre-teens in clean shirts with moderately well-groomed lambs in the ring. These were lambs we saw being born, and watched as they gained strength, and as they gamboled around the inner pasture (it took decades for me to learn that the word for their “boing-boing-boing” activity was “gamboling.”
    Our hands were always soft from the lanolin in the sheeps’ fleece. It took a while to learn what the life of human skin was in the absence of lanolin.
    I grew up thinking that Hampshires and Dorsets looked facially naked somehow and artificial and uninteresting.
    Sheep are not the smartest animals, but they were innocent and sweet, and my experience with them was simple and caring and disarming. One has no need to be at all defensive with a flock of ewes and lambs.
    Real life intruded later. After I went away to school, my parents were divorced, and a while later my mother married another sheep guy, and they were a lot more ambitious about winning prizes at shows of national significance. But I was not in that picture.
    I still remember the names of most of the sheep we had. The one we named after my grandmother had a habit of rubbing her butt against a post in the barn, and we would tease my grandmother about that.
    There’s another side of raising sheep than the controversies of breed and documentation and all that.

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