Sheep scab warning issued to farmers
Published:  03 August, 2015

At a recent Clyde monitor farm meeting, hosted by farmer Andre Baillie, industry experts gathered to deliberate the increasingly pressing issue of sheep scab. 

Baillie discussed the potential damaging impact that the disease can have on the sheep farming trade: “I’m fully aware of the problems an outbreak of sheep scab on the farm could create. It could easily jeopardise a whole season’s worth of tup sales, costing us tens of thousands of pounds. So as a common sense precaution we routinely treat all our sheep, pre-tupping, in September.”

Should a farmer notice a suspected case of sheep scab on one of his or her animals, he is required to report it as quickly as possible to the local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office, as well as alerting neighbouring farmers.

“Scab is spread from sheep to sheep, or can be caught by an un-infected sheep rubbing against something like a fence post where an infected sheep has been scratching,” said veterinary surgeon of the Clyde Vet Group, Neil Laing. “The sheep scab mite feeds on blood and can survive for up to 17 days between blood feeds, in a variety of environments.

“If you see agitated sheep rubbing or nibbling at themselves, investigate. If you suspect scab, it’s important to pluck wool for analysis from the right location – the mites are on the leading edge of lesions. If you’re confident, get the vet in, it’s too risky to get it wrong!”

If a farmer’s sheep suffer from the disease, then there are a number of sheep scab control products available to treat the condition, in both injection and dip form.

Farmers who decide to plunge dip their livestock as a means of treating the condition ought to refer to the product manufacturer’s instructions – particularly the maximum number of sheep that should be dipped before emptying end refilling the dipper, according to Laing. He also urged farmers to follow guidelines concerning the amount of times that the sheep are submerged, and how many times their heads go underwater.

He continued to explain that the sheep scab mites live in the warm areas of the sheep, such as armpits and ears. However, by plunge dipping in the correct way, mites can be immediately killed off.

Those who don’t have access to dipping facilities should be aware that if they’re using injectable endectocides to treat their sheep, they will also kill intestinal worms. For this reason, its use should be part of the farmer’s worm control strategy to avoid the chances of anthelmintic resistance.

The Moredun Research Institute has developed a new prevention method against sheep scab, scheduled for launch in September this year. The diagnostic blood tests detect sheep scab antibodies before any suspicious symptoms are displayed.

Laing is confident that this method will be a step forward in the fight against sheep scab: “This quick and simple test will be really helpful. The recommendation is that just eleven sheep from each flock are blood-sampled, to establish whether or not antibodies are present.

“There will be many opportunities to utilise this test, including blood sampling sheep on farms neighbouring a confirmed outbreak. It will also help farmers within a specific area to work together to control scab.”

More information on monitor farms and more detailed reports of meetings is available at www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitor-farms