Survey reveals different attitudes to sheep threats

Sheep farmers in England and Scotland have widely differing views on the health and welfare threats facing their flocks, according to results from the Moredun Institute’s National Sheep Health Survey.

Detailed analysis of the results showed that for farmers north of the border the greatest perceived threat to sheep health and welfare in the national flock was sheep scab, while in England anthelmintic resistance was seen as the biggest threat, said Moredun director Julie Fitzpatrick.

“This is possibly due to increased awareness of scab in recent years.

Its high ranking as a national threat is probably due to the fact that many farmers feel their efforts to control and eradicate scab from their flocks is being undermined by the inactivity of a handful of farmers to treat their flocks,” she said.

But when asked about threats to their own flocks there was a unified response, with farmers in both countries believing lameness posed the largest threat.

“But it is consistently reported as a low level threat.”

And while sheep scab was listed as the third largest threat to the national flock in England, it failed to make the top seven of threats to farmers’ own flocks, whereas Scots flockmasters listed it as the third greatest threat.

“Interestingly, mastitis was perceived as a high level threat to farmers’ own flocks, ranking third in England and fourth in Scotland,” said Prof Fitzpatrick.

She believed this was due to increased awareness among farmers of how damaging to flock profitability and animal health and welfare poorly milking ewes could be.

Internal parasites and anthelmintic resistance featured heavily as threats to farmers’ own flocks, with producers in both countries listing internal parasites as the second biggest threat to the health and welfare of their own flocks.

“This is reassuring as it shows the messages about preventing resistance are getting across to farmers.”

An increased belief that internal parasites and coccidiosis were threats to national flock health in England was likely to be influenced by climatic conditions, said researcher David Buxton.

“In future these threats may become more important further north, as climate change could mean warmer temperatures in northern England and Scotland.

Warmer temperatures may also mean the threat increases in the south, too, as these parasites may be able to survive better due to milder winters.”

But recognising threats is only half the battle, preventing them infecting your flock is the other half. As such, quarantining incoming stock was essential, said Prof Fitzpatrick.

“But many of those surveyed are failing to quarantine stock at all and those that are, fail to keep new animals separate for long enough.”

Nearly half of those responding to the survey failed to quarantine stock for more than two weeks, with 14% having no quarantine period at all.

“These short quarantine periods are unlikely to be long enough for some diseases.”

And this is despite 35% of farmers surveyed saying they had experienced new diseases in sheep which had been bought in.