3 November 1995

Lack of facts on effects of sheep scab in UK…

THREE years since compulsory dipping was abolished and the Sheep Scab Order deregulated there are no reliable statistics reflecting what effect sheep scab is having on the UK flock.

The basic problem is shortage of information, said Dr Harry Cook, chairman of NFUs Animal Health and Welfare Committee. "In 1992 there were 100 cases reported. Today people are talking of thousands," he said.

"The most reliable data available is from the British Leather Confederation. In 1988, one percent of skins were damaged by ectoparasites, now the figure is 16%. Its a very serious problem and works out at a loss of £15m a year in skin sales," said Dr Cook.

To the farmer this may be an indirect market loss, but it gives a picture of what is starting to happen.

"Scab damage can adversely affect farm wool sales by 30% due to loss of wool quality and quantity," he said. "That loss could certainly more than cover the cost of shearing itself."

Death for 30%

Thirty per cent of sheep infested with scab died, and there was also a 30% loss in performance during mite infestation.

Other economic losses included reduced growth rates, ill thrift, poor conception rates, lower lambing percentage, reduced lamb vigour, cost of treatment and death.

The other hardship, which was not quantifiable, was that of industry confidence which was related to stock quality.

"Once a buyer has lost his confidence in a product, it is very difficult to get it back and for the seller to regain his reputation," said Dr Cook.

"We just dont know the economics – only make wild guesses. Whats needed is a composed control programme to attack sheep scab in light of the acknowledged fact that if we dont act soon, there will be serious trouble."