The owners said they could not afford to look after them and could not pay to have them slaughtered. The RSPCA called the farmers irresponsible and said staff only agreed to take the animals into the Bryn-y-maen centre in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, because they were concerned for their welfare.
The sheep arrived in a convoy of 12 trailers and the farmers refused to leave until the RSPCA accepted them. A police car blocked the entrance to the shelter but after a stand-off the charity reluctantly agreed to let the animals in.
An RSPCA spokeswoman, Emma Nutbrown, said: "We are appalled the farmers feel it appropriate to compromise the welfare of the animals ... It is utterly irresponsible ... We have no facilities to deal with unwanted farm animals and we made it perfectly clear to the farmers we could not take them in but they would not move their position."
She said there were rumours the sheep had been in the trailers since the previous afternoon and that factor, with the animals' dehydration, forced them to accept them.
Ken Jones, a hill farmer from Ysbyty Ifan, Snowdonia, who left 25 sheep, said: "We've got nowhere else to turn. We've not got the money to see the animals through the winter. We're not making a living. The Government talks of a pounds 3.60-an- hour minimum wage, yet we aren't even getting pounds 1.50. I'm going to start selling dry-stone walls, that's how desperate I've become." Mr Jones said it cost pounds 7 to pounds 9 to slaughter each ewe.
Brinley Williams, of Cilcain, near Mold, said farmers received 62p a kilogram for lambs but in a supermarket lamb-leg steaks were selling for pounds 15.96 a kg. "Mutton is being imported from Spain but there's no market for our ewes, which we used to sell for pounds 35." He forecast that 100,000 sheep would die this winter because farmers could not afford to feed them.
John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: "Some of the sheep are getting nothing at market ... In the past the animals have always had a value, but there is no longer a price at the bottom end of the ewe market and that is why people are using this way out."
r Early retirement for farmers is part of a package of ideas being considered. Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, launching the Agenda 2000 Common Agricultural Policy Reform consultation document at a London news conference, said he saw "merit" in the idea of an early- retirement scheme.Reuse content