According to ‘Benjie’s’ records the first contact regarding shipping Shetland sheep to Canada was on the 3rd of March 1979. It was from Colonel G.D. Dailley president of the African Lion Safari and Game Farm Ltd, Rockton Ontario Canada. This connection came about following the Colonel visiting the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in 1977 where he observed the Shetland sheep supplied to the Trust in 1975 by ‘Benjie ‘. The Colonel wished to purchase a flock of native Shetland sheep from the trust they were unable to do this because they could not meet the Canadian Authorities conditions. The trust recommended very strongly that the Colonel get in touch with ‘Benjie’ who could meet the Canadian government requirements.
I shall quote directly from the correspondence between ‘Benjie ‘and Colonel Dailley regarding this trailblazing epic journey of Shetland sheep from our islands to their new home in Canada. It was to be quite an eventful journey involving strict export and export regulations as well as adverse weather conditions.
March 3rd 1979 Colonel Dailley in his first letter to ‘Benjie ‘states one of his requirements. “I wish to make the point that we want unimproved stock and we are most interested in the fleece, especially with the variety of colours rather than and moorit breed. Rare Breeds Survival Trust were very complimentary about you and felt that you could give me the best possible advice about supplying Shetland sheep of a satisfactory standard and quality.
I am enclosing a copy of the conditions which Canadian Agriculture requires. One of the conditions which R.B.S.T. could not meet was that the sheep had to be 42 months or older. There is also the need for quarantining in Scotland which I would assume to be would be in Prestwick before shipment to Canada. We would be looking for 5 to 6 rams and about 25 to 30 Shetland ewes; we would leave it to you to advise us about the possibilities, price, shipping arrangements, etc.”
April 9th – ‘Benji’ response to opening enquiry from Canada – “The conditions which the Canadian Health of Animals Department imposes are fairly stringent but from this end while the regulations may create problems these should not be insurmountable.
First of all I would have preferred to have offered younger stock 1/3 years old but to meet the Canadian conditions all the sheep would require to be rising 5 years. As Shetland lambs are normally born during May, the 42 months age stipulation could not be met before about 1st December. I am sure you will appreciate that this would be a risky venture to undertake in mid- winter.
However, provided quarantine arrangements can be arranged at at Prestwick I would be prepared to select 25/30 Shetland ewes, some of which would be coloured – Moorit, Black and Blue Grey and the balance white – and it would be possible to supply four rams, probably one coloured. There would be no difficulty in supplying any colour of ram if it were not for the age restriction. However I would endeavour to meet your requirements and suggest about mid- September would be the best to ship from Shetland.
As far as price is concerned it is rather difficult to give a firm offer as veterinary examination and transport to Lerwick would have to be included in the price. Prices are likely to be high in Shetland this back-end as we have had the worst conditions since 1947. If you feel we should progress the export/import proposals further kindly let me know and I will do everything possible to facilitate movement from Shetland”.
April 25, 1979 – In the Colonel’s reply accepting Benjie’s letter of terms, acknowledges that the conditions required by the Canadian authorities are quite strict but are put in place to protect the qualities of various livestock in the Provence.” As this has never been allowed before the upmost care must be taken”. The Colonel outlines the type of sheep they require with special emphases on wool quality and natural shades such as blue grey, grey and moorit.
There now follows a fairly lengthy and detailed correspondence with ‘Benjie ‘with all the agencies involved in exporting the sheep to Canada. They included the Department of Agriculture & Fisheries for Scotland, the Ministry of Agriculture, and divisional Veterinary Inspector for Shetland as well as our local vet. The Shetland Flock Book Society sheep inspectors passed the sheep as suitable to meet the trusts 1927 flock-book criteria. The Colonel was in attendance at this inspection. The consignment was to travel to Prestwick to be put into quarantine for 14 days prior to shipping to Canada where they would spend a period of 30 days in the approved quarantine station at Sydney Nova Scotia (Point Edwards).
Prior to shipping the consignment of sheep toward the end of October 1979, ‘Benjie’ states in his records to the Colonel, “I did observe a trace of what I assumed was orf (a minor ailment) on two ewes. When I gathered the lot for the vet’s inspection I penned them separately and the vet confirmed my diagnosis. On Wednesday 24th October the local vet and Mr McNair, a divisional veterinary officer from the DAFS, inspected the “orf” victims and confirmed the complaint. As you probably know orf is a minor disease – warts appear round the mouth and can easily be treated by aerosol sprays. However the vets deliberated thoughtfully on the situation which had arisen and eventually decided it would be unwise to put these sheep into quarantine in case other cases developed and I must I felt this was a wise decision as it probably could have meant the total consignment being put down”.
“Up to this point it had been a rather frustrating exercise as all the stops had been pulled out to get the results of the blood samples and get the sheep into quarantine on time. To digress here this was probably fortunate as the weather broke and shipping was disrupted and it could not have been possible to get them into quarantine on time”
Quite an unfortunate chapter in this saga, one could not blame ‘Benjie ‘if he were to call it a day and put the sheep back on their own native hills. I will continue with the next episode of shipping to Canada in my next blog.