17 May 1996


The new national sheep health scheme looks like enjoying full producer support. Allan Wright asked board members to explain the schemes objectives

MAEDI VISNA (MV) is a slow progressive sheep and goat disease first recognised in 1939 by Dr Gislason in Iceland. It is believed to have been introduced into that country by karakul sheep imported from Germany. Iceland is now free of the disease, following two eradication programmes. MV is a type of pneumonia with a long incubation period of one to three years, or more. After physical exertion, breathing becomes very rapid and shallow. Later breathing becomes difficult even at rest. Death often follows. Source: Blacks Veterinary Dictionary.

THE Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) sheep health scheme was launched on Apr 1 this year. Currently there are two major strands: Maedi visna (MV) and enzootic abortion free accreditation (EAE).

There are seven board members. Chairman is Dr Karl Linklater, director of SAC veterinary services and vice-president of the British Veterinary Association. Veterinary manager is SACs Barti Synge who made his name running the enzootic abortion accreditation scheme in north and west Scotland. Also from the college is Alastair Grieg, while John Southgate represents the SAC/MLC partnership, Signet.

Earlier this year, fears over the cost of the scheme were expressed by the National Sheep Association (NSA) which considered setting up a rival service. Agreement on a single scheme was reached and NSA is now represented on the board by Jonathan Barber.

The two other members are Steven McLean and Walter Armstrong, who represent Texel and Suffolk breeders, respectively.

A development officer has just been appointed. She is Alison Braddock, who will promote all aspects of the scheme and also act as secretary to the board.

In same vein

The maedi visna accreditation service will carry on in the same vein as MAFFs old sheep health scheme. But there are already plans to introduce a MV flock monitoring service which, it is hoped, will appeal to commercial flockmasters.

The board aims to promote freedom from enzootic abortion throughout the country, basing its campaign on the scheme pioneered by SAC in north and west Scotland. This has been running for seven years and now has more than a million ewes accredited in EAE-free flocks.

The Highlands and Islands Sheep Health Scheme will retain its identity, but this still operates with the same rules as the Premium Health Scheme as it is known in the rest of the country. Flock charges are outlined in the table.

"The rules are now the same for everyone in the country, instead of being open to local interpretation. We now have large commercial flocks admitting to MV infections, and the disease is a major concern in America," says Mr Barber. "There has been some cynicism about the disease because of low levels of economic loss but I am sure it will be of growing importance and I would urge pedigree breeders to join."

According to Dr Linklater, the MV scheme offers an insurance against introducing the disease into flocks. "It can be in a flock for a long time before it is noticed. By then it is too late and the disease will be out of control. The accreditation scheme offers commercial flocks the opportunity to buy in rams guaranteed to be free of the disease," explains Dr Linklater.

Barti Synge says, as MV becomes more prevalent, more and more farmers should be looking for accredited stock. "Full accreditation is not attractive to commercial sheep farmers at the moment, but we will be introducing a flock monitoring service for them," he says.

The current MV scheme is targeted at pedigree ram producers. Accreditation follows two all-clear blood tests, six months apart. Thereafter blood testing occurs every two years.

In flocks under 50 head, all animals are tested; above that a sample large enough to guarantee any sign of the disease is required.

The Premium Health Scheme is aimed at enzootic abortion free accreditation. Two years of supervision are rewarded with full EAE-accreditation following the all clear. During this two-year phase and from then on stock must not be vaccinated and the flock owner undertake not to buy in other than EAE-accredited females. Annual testing of a proportion of the flock is compulsory and must be done within three months of lambing and be representative of all ages in the flock.

"The target here is both large commercial flocks as well as small specialist flocks," said Mr Synge.

&#8226 Free leaflets on both the MV and EAE schemes are available from: Sheep and Goat Health Scheme, PO Box 604, Milton Keynes, MK6 1ZZ. &#42

How Maedi visna got under way and how to spot it…

National Sheep and Goat Health Scheme Charges

&#8226 Premium Health Scheme membership costs, including administration and laboratory testing but not blood sampling, range from £35 a year for small flocks up to £600 for a flock of 5000 ewes.

&#8226 MV accreditation scheme has sliding scale administative fee from £50 to £120, depending on flock size. Small flocks will see a saving on the MAFF scheme, while those with more than 100 ewes will find membership £15 more expensive. Laboratory testing similar to before with blood sampling still done by local vets.

Sheep and Goat Health Schemes board members (left to right): John Southgate, Alastair Grieg, Dr Karl Linklater, Walter Armstrong, Steve McLean, Barti Synge

and Jonathan Barber.