11 April 1997


A CODE of practice should be drawn up for all sheep contractors – dippers, scanners and shearers – to eliminate the risk of spreading disease – particularly sheep scab – between flocks.

But sheep farmers must also be vigilant and demand the highest standards from contractors visiting the farm, says John Vipond, senior sheep specialist at the Scottish Agricultural College, Edinburgh.

"Sheep farmers have become complacent in their attitude to contractors, but they must realise that it is in their interests to expect high standards of hygiene as well as competent and professional services."

Mr Vipond, who is contacting all sheep contractors in Scotland and would like to extend his message throughout the UK, is urging a greater awareness among dippers, shearers and even scanning teams. "Any operator coming on to a farm to handle sheep has the potential to pass on disease from another flock."

He says all equipment used, including gates, trailers as well as shears, combs and scanning equipment, must be completely clean and not carry any tags of wool from another farm.

He believes most contractors are genuine in their efforts to do a good job, but through ignorance they remain unaware of the threats posed by tags of wool carrying scab mites. Any equipment which shows a tendency to snag wool should be dealt with and replaced or redesigned.

"Dairy disinfectant should be used to clean all equipment in-between farm visits and it is essential that clean overalls and clothing are worn each day. Few people realise that scab mites can live on clothing and pose a risk of reinfection."

Shearing equipment is also a potential threat and must be thoroughly cleaned in between flock visits.

Mr Vipond says farmers need to adopt a stricter attitude to all visiting sheep contractors. They should inspect equipment before any sheep are handled and be absolutely satisfied that the highest standards are being achieved.

Where dipping gangs are employed, farmers must ensure that they are fully aware of the dip product being used, that the manufacturers instructions are followed to the letter and that sheep are fully immersed in the dip bath.

"Sheep scab is once again a major threat to the sheep industry and it is only by achieving the highest possible standards that farmers will avoid a serious and costly outbreak in their own flocks.

"Contractors are brought in when there is insufficient farm labour to do the job but that does not mean that farmers should turn their backs on the proceedings. They must ensure that the work is carried out correctly."

Mr Vipond says many contractors are unaware of the potential risks they pose to their customers. It is only by heightening their awareness that they will react positively and adopt more effective practices to avoid spreading disease.

"We are drawing up a list of best practice which will also include details of all scab dip products. It will be made available to sheep contractors and will hopefully be the first step to improved standards, although an official code of practice would be ideal for dippers where their work is so critical in the control of sheep scab."n


&#8226 Disinfect equipment.

&#8226 Change clothing.

&#8226 Clean shearing equipment.