HEFTED flocks should be left on the fell, says the Sheep Veterinary Society.

In most cases, these flocks will have been there since the turn of the year and are highly unlikely to have had any bought-in stock introduced since, possibly, rams last autumn. There will have been little contact with shepherds in this period and the chances of fell sheep coming into contact with bought-in store or slaughter sheep and cattle are low.

The SVS says ewes on the fell are less at risk of contact with the foot-and-mouth virus than if they move to lower ground. It has been shown that local spread, by people and vehicles, is an issue, as well as sheep to sheep, sheep to cattle or cattle to cattle.

All these risks increase on lower ground. Access to in-bye pasture is very frequently through lower pasture, and proximity to potentially infected animals increases.

Shepherds are urged to consider the options carefully, bearing in mind the risks of bringing down fell ewes, infection occurring in-bye and infected ewes being turned back on to open fell with lambs at foot. The consequences of that outweigh the potential benefits of lambing in-bye.

Risk factors to consider are:

l any sheep either bought or brought home since February 1;

l cattle on the holding, particularly those brought on since February 1;

l amount of potential contact between the hefted ewes and in-bye stock, vehicles, equipment and people;

l in-bye carrying stock or which has very recently been stocked;

l gathering involving contact with other farmers, hefts or other risk factors such as public roads;

l hefts adjacent to public roads or points of public access.

If ewes are left on the fell to lamb because it is considered this carries a lower risk of infection, the only really practical option for feeding is to use feed blocks on the open hill.

Do not go up any more than is necessary to replenish block supplies. Use a dedicated vehicle, which is cleaned and disinfected before and after each visit and remember that you should also be clean, wearing newly washed clothes and disinfected boots/waterproofs for each visit.

Try to avoid contact with other stock, particularly cattle, if at all possible - get someone else to feed them.

It is not going to be possible to provide any degree of supervision at lambing and trying is likely to be counter-productive both in terms of disease risk and disturbance to the lambing process.

It is unlikely that you will be able to give the pre-lambing booster at the normal time. You should refer to the manufacturer or your vet for guidance on how to stay in the system. Castration will have to be carried out by non-ring method at marking and tails left on