Midland sheep farmers are being devastated by the movement bans on livestock in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the National Farmers' Union said yesterday.

At a time when most farmers are looking to sell rams and move ewes for the breeding season, farmers are losing out as auctions are shut down and flocks isolated.

Peter Vaughan, from Oakfield Farm in Kingsland, Herefordshire, had taken 10 pedigree rams to a sale at the Lawrie and Symington centre in Lanarkshire, Scotland, on Wednesday, when rumour spread that an infected sheep had been found on site.

He was trapped inside for hours after the building was sealed. "They sealed the place like a prison, with 400 people and about a thousand sheep inside," he said.

"There was no warning, just suddenly the shutters closed and left us in darkness. I've never seen anything like it; we didn't know what was going on." Although the infection warning later turned out to be a false alarm, Mr Vaughan said the sale had been a complete loss because no buyers had turned up.

Although a movement ban was put in place in Scotland, he was allowed to bring the rams back to Herefordshire, although they have now been put into an isolation unit, and cannot be sold.

"It was an absolute disaster, all of the sheep yesterday became worthless and I've lost around £30,000," he said.

"You only get one chance to sell sheep like these, and now it's a totally lost cause. This is obviously going to have a huge knock-on effect for the industry. If we can't get sheep to breed, where are next year's lambs going to come from?

"The rams need to get to the ewes by next week, but the whole countryside is completely locked down."

Sheep farmers across the Midlands face massive losses as auctions close down. The NSA Wales and Border Ram Sale is the largest in Europe, with an annual turnover of nearly £2 million.

It was due to be held just over the Welsh border in Builth Wells on Monday September 24, but has had to be postponed indefinitely.

The event usually attracts about 7,500 sheep, with a huge number from farmers in Herefordshire and the rest of the Midlands.

A spokeswoman for the sale said: "It's absolutely heartbreak-ing.

"The event is a huge economic driver for the area. It's particularly terrible, because for some of the smaller hill farmers, this might be the only chance they have to get any money all year.

"I don't see how it could be worse. There are obviously fears for the welfare of animals, but personally I'm worried about the welfare of farmers themselves."