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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 13:16 GMT
One year on: 'We were losing 3,000 a day'
Big Sheep
Wacky races: On course at the Big Sheep
This week we are hearing how the impact of foot-and-mouth lives on. Here Rick Turner reflects on the hit tourism took. His Devon farm attraction runs sheep races, duck herding and an indoor playground.

Not only were we were right in the hit zone with outbreaks within three miles every direction, our name - the Big Sheep - was about as bad as you could get, bar maybe the Dead Sheep.

Rick and his charges
Rick Turner: Cut costs to save going bankrupt
On 1 April, we sent out a spoof press release saying that because of foot-and-mouth we'd had to change our name to the Big Chicken. Months later we were still being referred to as 'The Big Chicken, formerly known as the Big Sheep'.

The disease hit Devon on a Tuesday in late February and on the Friday we had people in from the farm next to the outbreak. I closed the place down until we could move the sheep off-site.

We weren't able to operate any live sheep shows until June. Yet we'd sent out 350,000 full-colour leaflets telling people about shows we weren't able to do.

Big Sheep event
A sheep dog herds ducks as visitors look on
We did manage to do different things, like a new horse whispering show and a few virtual shows.

We also halved our admission price - that was fairly devastating. At one stage we were losing 3,000 to 4,000 a day. At the end of May we were within three weeks of having to close.

Luckily the chief vet down here has two young children and he got a vet out here a week before half term to make sure we could open some sheep shows.

It was like a celebrity visit - we had guys in sunglasses with folded arms protecting the sheep

As a precaution we had to double-fence the demonstration area with two shepherds to make sure people didn't come anywhere near the sheep.

It was like a celebrity visit - we had guys in sunglasses with folded arms protecting the sheep. We had signs up saying: 'Our sheep are healthy but you may be carrying the virus.'

Last minute reprieve

We normally employ up to 70 people over summer and at one stage we were down to five. Then when it got busy all the people that would normally be employed and trained for months were starting when we had 900 visitors on site.

Sheep and lambs
The perception of sheep changed from this...
Through the winter we often keep people on to do repairs but this year we had to lay them all off.

Nevertheless things did pick up and because we'd cut costs so drastically we recovered some of the losses we'd sustained. We still haemorrhaged more than 100,000.

The problem with tourism is that it's all upfront money. We'd paid for all our advertising in the winter and just weren't able to change any of it. And dear Tony [Blair] kept saying don't go near farms and farm animals, even though it would have been totally safe to come here.

Slaughtered sheep await incineration
... to this grim scene
Yet we're among the lucky ones. We've adapted from farming already and can adapt away from animals more. We're setting up a microbrewery in an old milking parlour; we've opened a network gaming centre in our internet cafe.

But when people think of sheep now they no longer think of cuddly lambs - they think of burning pyres with legs in the air.

One year on, send us your memories of foot-and-mouth, and tell us how it's impact is still being felt.

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The Big Sheep's Rick Turner
"I've become bitter and twisted"
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