A backlash against bluetongue vaccination has seen growing numbers of producers shelving plans to protect livestock against the virus.
Many farmers, particularly in the north of England, fear that the breeding ability of stock – already stressed by the difficult late summer and autumn weather – may be adversely affected by the vaccine.
Uptake of the vaccine has been so low that only one in five livestock farms is protected. One group of farmers, who spoke to Farmers Weekly, admitted that they were “undecided” about using vaccine until the breeding and sale season was over.
While the farmers were not prepared to be identified, they said reports about stock deaths following vaccination had done little to instill confidence in the vaccine.
“I’ve decided to leave my vaccine in the fridge until the spring,” said one Cumbria suckled calf producer. “I want my cows safely in calf and a crop of calves on the ground before I start to jab.”
Although farmers selling breeding sheep at the big autumn sales have had the option to jab or leave it to purchasers, many were worried that buyers were also becoming “nervy”. Some buyers preferred gimmer lambs that had not been vaccinated, a sheep producer told Farmers Weekly.
The doubts over vaccinating were reflected at Penrith livestock market which reported that, of 6000 mules through, only two batches of ewes were vaccinated.
Across the Pennines, farmers in Yorkshire also expressed worries.
“It’s been the worst summer and autumn we can remember and stock have suffered,” said a North Yorkshire hill farmer.
“If we jab sheep that are clearly under pressure at a critical time of year we may be at risk of dealing ourselves another body blow.”
In Wales, where the first case of bluetongue in imported cattle occurred on a Denbighshire farm this week, chief veterinary officer Christianne Glossop reported that the uptake of vaccine had been disappointingly low.
She said that confirmation of the virus in two cattle imported to a farm near Ruthin highlighted the importance of vaccination – and the need for farmers to consider carefully before importing animals from bluetongue infected areas.
“Over the past few weeks there have been too many instances of imported animals testing positive for bluetongue in England, and now in Wales.”
Alun Edwards, a local farmer and Farmers Union of Wales office holder, claimed producers who resisted vaccination were “bloody idiots”, and he questioned the sanity of importing livestock from infected areas.
Have your say on this issue on our FWiSpace forum thread – Backlash against bluetongue vaccination.