Suffolk/Essex: Further cases of animal virus expected

FARMERS are expecting further outbreaks of the Schmallenberg virus as the lambing season progresses after cases were confirmed at nine more Suffolk farms.

Yesterday’s newly-confirmed cases brings the total number of farms in the county affected by the disease to 14

In neighbouring Essex, there have been a further five recorded cases of the virus, which is spread by midges and can cause late abortions and birth deformities in sheep, goats and cattle.

There are more than 50,000 sheep in Essex and more than 70,000 in Suffolk and the disease in some situations could affect between 10 and 50 per cent of flocks.

Sheep farmer Tim Crick is just weeks away from lambing 3,500 animals at his farms along the Suffolk coast.

The one-year-old lambs are set to begin giving birth from about March 21 and were bought from north Yorkshire late last year.

Mr Crick, who is based at Benacre but also has livestock in Nacton and Orford, said: “I’m just hoping that because they came down so late and they have this strong dip on them we might not have the problem.”

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He said that with each lamb having a price of at least �50, losing half his flock could result in a potential loss of up to �100,000.

He said: “[There’s] nothing we can do at all - it doesn’t show any symptoms. In our individual situation, if you said we were at the top end of the bracket [and lost] 50% of 3,500 lambs then we could be losing up to 2,000 lambs, potentially. They’re �50 per head, so times 2,000 then it soon adds up to a lot of money.”

Brian Finnerty, regional spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union, said the disease could not be spread from animal to animal but many more cases could soon be confirmed.

He said: “We are expecting to see more cases as lambing gets under way and reaches its peak.

“It’s a disease that has no symptoms until lambing commences. Because of the nature of this disease people are expecting to see more cases.

“Livestock farmers are very concerned about it. Lambing should be a positive time. Obviously they are now very concerned that they have lambs that have this disease.”

Schmallenberg virus is a new emerging livestock disease that has been detected in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was vital that farmers continue to report any suspicions as soon as possible, to help gather information about progress and effects of the disease.

But he said the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported it was unlikely Schmallenberg virus would cause disease in humans.