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Sheep Scab Persisting Because of Irresponsible Farmers

31 July 2014

UK – Sheep scab is being perpetuated by a ‘nucleus of irresponsible farmers’, the British lamb industry heard at the National Sheep Association Event yesterday.

This is according to livestock specialist Kate Philips of agricultural consultancy body ADAS who questioned why a few people should ‘put the industry down’.

She blamed stopping dipping on a flare up in the mite driven condition, which has taken hold in certain parts of the British Isles.

“Where there are lots of sheep, there’s a lot of sheep scab,” said Mrs Philips. “Data shows a problem in Wales, Scotland and Northern England, particularly Northumbria and Cumbria.”

She called on an industry wide approach including hauliers, livestock markets and contract dippers and clippers to cut down on the passing of scab from farm to farm.

Proper diagnosis of scab is vital, otherwise it could be mistreated as lice - Kate Phillips of ADAS

Buying breeding stock or store lambs is a significant threat and suspected cases should be promptly diagnosed by a veterinarian or animal health expert, she advised.

“If you have itchy sheep then get them diagnosed. Paying for the wrong treatment such as a lice product is a waste of time and effort.”

Producer-retailer Andy Offer was hit hard by sheep scab and now buys far fewer store lambs.

“We started buying in store lambs because we needed a steady flow of lambs,” said Mr Offer, who managed to develop a retail enterprise beyond the capabilities of his 200 head flock.

Spending a large proportion of time on the retail enterprise meant that Mr Offer was caught short.

“I got a friend to procure store lambs for a certain specification and price but we didn’t always know when they were coming to the farm and we spent a lot of time selling produce at events and markets.

“A new batch arrived after a market day and I hurriedly penned them up and wormed them one evening in a field. I then put the stores inside, mixing them with the ewes.

“The vet diagnosed the flock and told us to treat all the ewes for scab which was an enormous job and made us think about buying store lambs. We now routinely treat scab and buy fewer stores.”

Sion Aran Jones industry development manager at Hybu Cig Cymru Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) said that farmers should own up to having the disease and called on legislators to make this a statutory requirement.

He outlined the ‘contiguous approach’ suggested by the Sheep Scab Task and Finish Group which, if put into practice, would make scab a reportable suspected disease by law and then mean inspections for surrounding farms.

“This approach works on one farm owning up to having sheep scab and then surrounding farms are inspected,” said Mr Jones. “This is the most likely to achieve success in the absence of compulsory dipping.”

He added that ring fenced or common grazing farms would both benefit, adding that it would mean ’short term pain but long term gain’ for farming.

Balancing the cost of the group’s proposals, Mr Jones said: “Reducing production costs is far more important to Wales than farmers having to repeatedly retreat flocks due to animals getting reinfected.”

Top photo courtesy of NADIS - the National Animal Disease Information Service

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

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