A well-known Aberdeenshire Suffolk breeder is celebrating after securing safe passage across the skies for a consignment of her sheep to Georgia.
Irene Fowlie, who has run the Essie flock of pedigree Suffolks at Adziel Farm, near Strichen, Fraserburgh for the past 40 years, has spent the majority of 2021 negotiating an export deal to send 36 of her sheep to Georgia.
She believes the deal is the first of its kind for livestock being traded between the UK and Georgia, and one of the first post-Brexit livestock trade deals to take place.
Mrs Fowlie, who previously worked as a secondary school English teacher, was given her first Suffolks by her late father-in-law as a thank you gesture for helping with the farm’s paperwork.
And while Adziel is a predominantly beef unit – run by Irene’s husband Jim and their daughter Gillian who have a 250-cow suckler herd and finish around 1,500 store cattle every year – it is also home to a 120-ewe flock of high-health Suffolk sheep which attract interest from breeders all over the world.
Leaving behind life sheep know
Mrs Fowlie has previously sent both semen and animals from the flock abroad, but this year’s export venture was a major challenge due to no protocol being in place to trade livestock between the UK and Georgia.
“On February 4 I was approached by Salome Abesadze, the head of foreign procurement department at Adjara Group LLC, who wanted to buy pedigree Suffolk sheep,” said Mrs Fowlie.
“They wanted 50 females and five males – a daunting project for any UK pedigree flock – and several major problems faced any such project.
“Firstly there was no export agreement between the UK and Georgia. The second major problem was that it became clear, after some considerable investigation, there were no border control posts open for the sheep to travel by road transport from the UK through the EU and onwards to Georgia.”
Months of to-ing and fro-ing ensued between Aberdeenshire and the Georgian company, which has interests in agriculture, gambling and hospitality, and the sheep were eventually transported by air in two custom-made wooden crates from Stansted Airport in London on July 23.
This followed months of negotiations to secure an export health certificate for the sheep and extensive testing of the animals to ensure they met the Georgian Government’s health requirements.
One way ticket
Mrs Fowlie said the expense of transporting the animals alone was very high, with air travel for each sheep costing in the region of £800, and weight restrictions also posed a challenge when deciding what animals could travel by plane and in what specific part of the crate they needed to travel in.
“It became increasingly obvious to me that to transport 55 sheep in three crates would be too expensive, and in June the number to be exported was reduced to two crates,” added Mrs Fowlie.
“Inevitably, after measuring the height and weighing all the sheep for a second time. I had to reduce the total number to 36.”
The end consignment was a batch of 32 gimmers and four shearling rams – all of which are settled into their new home in Georgia.
And their new owners are so impressed they want to buy up to 80 more sheep from Mrs Fowlie next year and they’ve also asked her for contacts to purchase some Aberdeen-Angus cattle.
“We had a good lambing this year so I can do it,” said Mrs Fowlie.
“It’s tremendous really. Since retiring from teaching I have devoted all my time to my flock. It is very gratifying.”