When scab affects one flock it often spreads quickly to neighbouring holdings, meaning group action is often far better than single a flock treatment programme.

ADAS’ Redesdale research centre was among a number of farms in the Rede Valley at the centre of a sheep scab disease hot-spot in 2000.

Redesdale researchers quickly organised a producer meeting to discuss ways of tackling the outbreak, followed by a postal
questionnaire.

The 95% response rate identified almost a dozen holdings where the disease had either been confirmed or suspected.

Independent sheep vet consultant Chris Lewis was brought in to make recommendations for a co-ordinated treatment plan.

His advice resulted in participating flocks agreeing to an action plan (see panel).

Treatment plan

In total, more than 42,000 breeding sheep were included in the treatment plan, as well as more than 1500 lambs, with 38% treated by injection and 62% dipped.

Local suppliers offered discounted rates to project members and results were impressive, with only one recorded sheep scab outbreak among participating flocks during summer 2001.

The isolated case was on the edge of the treatment zone and was thought to have been introduced through contact with an untreated neighbouring flock.

ADAS Redesdale’s Allan Murray says staff injected all 3850 of the farm’s sheep against scab during the treatment year.

A derogation was granted to include the organic flock, and the disease has not been recorded since the initial infection, which affected a small group of feeding lambs.

“Foot-and-mouth movement restrictions post-treatment would have helped to reduce the spread of the disease, but it was really the collective effort of all farmers involved that made the project so successful,” says Mr Murray.

Support

“I would like to see this type of approach used more widely, but would require support from other local producers.

“It seems to be the trend to use fire-fighting tactics to combat livestock disease, when planning and prevention would be a far better solution.

“It’s no use treating your flock for scab if your neighbour is not making any effort – you’ll be wasting time and money.”

Since the initiative ended, ADAS Redesdale has been dipping its own conventionally-managed sheep twice a year using an organophosphate (OP) dip, to reduce the risk of sheep scab flaring up again.

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk