By Margaret Van Camp, Pitchfork Ranch, Swartz Creek, MI (email@example.com, 810-814-3408)
Of late, our breed has been catching the eyes and the interest of our good neighbors to the north. BLU currently has five Canadian flocks as members, and doubtless there are more flocks that have BLU-registered sheep in them that are not (yet!) members. With inquires about exporting BFLs to the Great White North on the rise, I have been asked to help demystify this rather intimidating process.
Our farm here in Michigan has been export certified by the USDA since 2017. Our proximity to Canada was the main driving force behind this decision, and it was not made lightly. For certain, export certification is not for everyone. The additional record keeping, replacement of ear tags (BFLs wiggle out of them at an alarming rate) and of course the unpleasant task of removing and submitting heads of dead ewes are daunting, not to mention the annual inspection. It took us five years in the export monitored category before we were able to export our first ewe across the border. However, the payoff is that we have added an entire country to our potential market, and the border is only ninety minutes away.
We have exported both rams and ewes every year since certification, and are fielding Canadian inquiries at an increasing rate. As a result, I feel comfortable in explaining what the process looks like, typical costs and what needs to happen on both sides of the border to make the export / import happen.
First, we need to make a distinction between the requirements for rams versus ewes. Fortunately for Canadian breeders, the import of rams from the U.S. is much less restrictive in terms of the flock of origin. Due to the fact that scrapie is passed in birth fluids and milk, rams are not identified as vectors for the disease by the USDA. So the origin flock in the U.S, does not have to be in the export certified program. However, they must have a premise number registered with the USDA, and the ram must have permanently affixed a USDA approved scrapie ID tag with that premise number for traceability purposes. He must also have “USA” tattooed in his right ear (don’t worry if the green ink does not show up on the black skin of the ear—they will use a black light to read it). RFID chips can also be used as permanent ID, but the chip would have to be compatible with the chip reader at border station where you intend to cross.
The ram must be genotype tested by a USDA-approved lab. Allowable results are: codon 136AA 171RR or 136AA 171QR. We use Genecheck in Greeley, Colorado. They have a nifty ear-sampling system that lets you avoid collecting blood or having to ship a high-rate refrigerated overnight package. It takes a sample of tissue from the ear, leaving a tiny hole. A normal padded envelope will hold dozens of them. Each sample cup is $3-$4, and the test itself is $11 per head. The applicator needed to take the sample is around $30, a one-time expense. Here is the link to Genecheck : http://www.genecheck.com/ The turnaround time with this company is quite short – usually within 2-3 days of receiving the samples. The test results have to be submitted with the importer’s application for an import permit from the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the equivalent of the USDA). If the ram in question tests QQ at 171, or is untested, he can still be imported but the Canadian breeder must have been enrolled in the Canadian scrapie eradication program for at least a year and had at least one inspection. There lots of other restrictions on the Canadian side involved with a QQ / untested ram, so it’s much easier just to test and select a ram with the correct genotype. We routinely test all the ram lambs we intend to sell, so we do not charge the buyer for this testing. If you want to read rules yourself, here is a link to the latest CFIA requirements for import of small ruminants (sheep and goats) from the U.S. into Canada: https://www.inspection.gc.ca/animal-health/terrestrial-animals/imports/import-policies/live-animals/2007-5/eng/1321032703935/1321032839418
Speaking of that permit: this is the first official paperwork that has to be completed to get the export/ import ball rolling. It must be applied for at the CFIA by the importing (Canadian) breeder. At last check, the cost was $35 CDN. The US breeder will need to supply the following information for each sheep to be imported to the Canadian breeder for the application: birth date, breed , color, gender, farm tag number, Scrapie number, and a copy of the genotype report. More than one sheep can be listed on the permit. The permit can take up to a month to be issued, but two weeks is typical. Take it from me: do not depend on federal or provincial offices to work speedily just because you need them to. If you have a hard deadline, begin the process at least 3 months ahead. The permits are good for ninety days. Here is the link for the CFIA: https://www.inspection.gc.ca/animal-health/terrestrial-animals/imports/permit-application/eng/1374511671189/1374511696513
Once you have the ram tagged, tattooed, and tested, and the Canadian breeder has received the permit and sent you a copy, you can now make an appointment with your vet to issue the international health certificate. The vet can inspect the animal(s) before having the permit number, but they can’t issue the certificate without it. Vet charges vary, of course, but most charge more for international versus interstate certificates because the form is longer. For us, this is a pass-through expense for the importer. On our last export, this cost was $90 ($65 for the farm call, $25 for the papers – for one ram. Added animals would have been $10 each.)
With the CFIA permit, ram genotype results and international health papers in hand, you can now make an endorsement appointment at your local USDA office. The USDA has to look over all the paperwork and mark it as approved before the animal can enter Canada. Yes, this can be accomplished by mail. However, my experience strongly suggests that appointments are handled in a much more timely manner than mail-in requests. And you have a pre-determined date when you know the paperwork will be completed, because, barring any missing info, you will walk out of the office with all the paperwork needed to get the boy across the border. The fee for this service recently (October of 2019) jumped from $52 to around $120, with no difference in service (or explanation) provided. I don’t blame the people who work in the office … they are not told anything, either. At any rate, this expense also passed on to the buyer. Here is a link to USDA office locations: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel/service-centers-endorsement-offices
Alrighty, if you are still with me, the next step is to set up the actual exchange of the animal. First, collect all the documents that must accompany the animal across the border:
CFIA permit (with USDA endorsement)
international health certificate (with USDA endorsement)
a copy of the ram genotype results
bill of sale
Optional: signed-off registration (if balance is paid)
double check to make sure all ear tag numbers in the documents match the actual tags
If you have neglected to tattoo “USA” in the right ear, now is your last chance
There are several options here, but the buyer coming to the farm of origin to see the setup there is the best way. One could also offer to meet the buyer on the U.S. side of the border and transfer the animal(s) there. Some buyers opt to hire a professional transporter. I do not suggest driving the animal across the border for the buyer to pick up on the Canadian side. There is a lot more hassle for a U.S. citizen trying to get an animal into Canada than there is for a Canadian, even if all the paperwork is in order. Whichever party is taking the animal across the border needs to set up an appointment with the vet at the border crossing they intend to use. The phone number of the Canadian customs office at the crossing point can be found by Googling it. There is no fee for customs or the vet inspection at the border. The vet will check the animals for obvious signs of illness and make sure all the tag numbers and descriptions match the paper work. When entering the border crossing, the transporter should go to the animal inspection area first rather than just lining up to cross, as the customs agents will simply send them there anyway. When making the appointment with the vet for the inspection, it’s a good idea to ask him or her about the best way to go about it.
Additionally, there may be a requirement to check if taxes are owed on the purchase of the animals. My experience has been that this is simply a paperwork formality and that taxes are not collected. I admit I am not as familiar with this aspect of the crossing, but anyone who has brought a purchased animal back across the border can shed more light on this. I can provide references in this respect.
As far as payment goes, we usually ask for a good faith deposit of at least 20% of the purchase price to hold the animal and commit to the export protocol. We always ask that the buyer pay the balance in U.S. dollars cash or money order, in advance.
And viola! You are done! Au revoir, mon ami ram! Easy peasy, right?
OK, so, maybe not. But it is certainly doable; you don’t need superpowers or friends in high places, and if you live within an easy drive of the border, it could open up a new market for your ram genetics.
And what about the ewes? Well, there is good news and bad news about the ewes. The good news? No genotype testing is required export from the U.S. to Canada. Other than that, the procedure for ewes is exactly the same as described above. The bad news? Female small ruminants can be imported only from flocks enrolled in the USDA’s Scrapie Flock Certification Program that are determined to be “negligible risk premises” – which is defined as Export Certified. If the previous information has not scared you off, here is a link to a document describing what it takes to become an Export Certified flock: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/animal_diseases/scrapie/downloads/standards_current.pdf
Clearly, exporting sheep to Canada is not for everyone, just as importing them from the U.S. does not make sense for every Canadian flock. But the demand is there and growing, and if you want to possibly provide cornerstone ram(s) for motivated BFL breeder(s) in Canada, this is your chance.
I am hoping that a Canadian breeder who has experience importing from the U.S. will provide a similar guide from the Canadian perspective. I am reasonably sure that information provided here is correct – at least this is what I will be operating on for 2020 until I discover differently. If you have questions, you can contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or cell (810-814-3408).