A thorough dip can halt rapid
spread of scab
By Rebecca Austin
ONLY once shepherds have experienced sheep scab in their flock will they realise how damaging the disease is. They will then be prepared to treat sheep, and be more vigilant in controlling scab.
This is the view of one Brecon Beacons farmer who had to cope with scab spreading through the 20 flocks which graze the same common as his sheep.
Wary that the local trading standards officer might tackle him over the fact that he did not notify last years outbreak, he is not prepared to be named. But he is concerned about the speed at which scab is spreading around the UK.
"The main reason farmers dont report scab outbreaks is because of the assumed stigma attached to those farmers whose sheep have been infected," he says. "But when every flock on our common was infected, the stigma was lost. We were all in the same boat."
Once it was evident there was sheep scab on the common every farmer agreed to gather his sheep and treat them, mostly by dipping, before they were returned to the hills. After that, incidence of scab receded quickly.
"We have always gathered at the end of October as a matter of course, but last year for the first time in many years we brought the sheep down in the summer. Ironically, the last time we gathered in the summer was to try to eradicate scab about 20 years ago."
"It was a pleasure to dip. As soon as the sheep had been through the dip, they were at ease again. Once a farmer has seen that change in his sheep, it helps him realise how vital it is to deal with scab.
"The trouble is many farmers have never seen scab before and might think their sheep are suffering from lice, keds or ticks," he says.
He was also concerned at how easily the disease is spread at markets and in lorries, as the mite is able to survive off sheep for about 16 days. "For example, when lambs are turned away by auctioneers at a market and are taken back to the farm by a haulier, the next load of sheep travelling in the lorry will pick up the mites, as well as any sheep which are later put in the same pen as those which were sent home. Once you start to understand how easily the mites spread, it is very alarming." *