Herdwick sheep pass viability test

Embryos and sperm collected almost 10 years ago at the height of the Foot and Mouth epidemic in the UK have proved viable, according to a report from the UK’s Channel 4 News. Five ewes are carrying lambs fathered by rams lost to foot and mouth disease, and another three are surrogate mothers to embryos taken from sheep culled during the epidemic.

The threat to Herdwicks, one of several hardy heritage sheep breeds particularly valued for crossbred animals, prompted a rescue mission and resulted in the formation of The Sheep Trust. The report points out that in the end the precautions weren’t necessary — only about a third of the Herdwick flock was culled — but that it was impossible to know that in advance.

The Sheep Trust has taken on 12 heritage breeds, and calculates that 10 of those are geographically very concentrated, with 95% of the animals within 65 km of the centre of the breed’s distribution. This, the Trust warns, makes them vulnerable to future outbreaks of disease.

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