Disease alert for livestock farmers

LIVESTOCK farmers have been put on the alert after a new disease was spotted in sheep flocks in Suffolk, Norfolk and East Sussex.

Schmallenberg Virus, (SBV) which causes abortion in ewes, is a non-notifiable disease.

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) is urging farmers and vets to take “sensible “ hygiene precautions when working with livestock and to remain vigilant and report any suspicious cases to it for testing.

Since August of last year, the Netherlands and Germany have reported outbreaks of the disease in cattle. Symptoms include fever, reduced milk yield, loss of body condition and in some Dutch herds, diarrhoea. It was confirmed in four sheep - two in Norfolk, one in Suffolk and one in East Sussex - in January.

“These counties are in the area that we had identified as potentially being at risk from infected midges blown across the Channel from the affected areas and we suspect that this is the most likely cause of transmission,” the AHVLA said.

Andrew Foulds, area chairman of the National Sheep Association, who has 2,200 ewes and is based at Elveden, near Thetford, said his flocks had shown no signs of it, but like all diseases, it was a worry.

“We are always very, very worried about anyything which is unknown,” he said.

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“Of course, none of us know how long this has been in the country.

“If it’s midge-driven which it seems, it has certainly been with us since last summer. As it’s unknown, we know nothing about it. We are all obviously concerned about it.”

However, he didn’t feel there was any point anyone losing sleep over it until we know more.

“We are busy lambing 1,000 at the moment. We have got another 1,000 to lamb in March so we are as vulnerable as anybody,” he said. “If we have anything we don’t understand then we involve our vet straight away and that’s it.”

It was an issue which would concern the wider livestock community, he said.

“The problem for us as sheep keepers comes with the number of deformed lambs,” he said.

“I think as far as the cattle men are concerned as well a lot of them will be thinking of coming up to spring calving any day now and it’s an unknown for the cattle.”

Robin Watson, who has 600 breeding ewes around Euston and Barnham, near Thetford, was also unaffected. “My general attitude would be wait to see what develops really. It’s potentially serious if it causes abortion as has been mentioned in the press. That would potentially be serious to sheep farmers,” he said.

Benacre-based sheep farmer Tim Crick said it could potentially cause damage if a large percentage are affected at lambing time, but it was still early days and little was known about it.