Farmer Focus: Scab outbreak prompts chat with neighbours

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been dealing with a problem that nobody seems to want to talk about and few want to admit they have – sheep scab.

Our area was affected greatly with sheep scab around 2005-10. But, luckily for us, for the past 12 years we’ve avoided this awful parasite.

The problem was so persistent that, in 2010, we encouraged many local farmers to attend a meeting in the village hall to try to work together to control the disease. 

See also: Sheep scab: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

About the author

Dafydd Parry Jones
Dafydd Parry Jones and wife Glenys, Machynlleth, Powys, run a closed flock of 750 Texel and Aberfield cross ewes and 70 Hereford cross sucklers cows on 180ha. Their upland organic system uses Hereford bulls, Charollais terminal sires and red clover silage, multispecies leys and rotational grazing.
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Several vets from the local area and pharmaceutical companies were brought in to share their expertise and advice on a practical way forward.

We mainly discussed topics around understanding the parasite’s life cycle, best practices, and recommended methods and timings for treatment.

We’ve been aware of scab cases in the area within the past 10 years. But it’s fair to say that the exercise was seen as a success, as cases decreased.

We’ve had cases of lice occasionally. We had a vet diagnosis of lice in early autumn this year, with no scab parasite found, and we treated lambs accordingly.

But in November, it became apparent that the problem was scab. We decided to treat with an injection.

We weighed a selection of various ewes from the groups to correctly calibrate the equipment to their weight, and carefully injected every ewe in the narrow handling facilities.

Missing one would be a disaster and make the whole job a waste of time.

Two weeks later, we blood-sampled different groups for the vet to determine whether the treatment had worked, as resistance is something of great concern.

All immediate neighbours have been informed, giving them an opportunity to treat before lambing.

Over the years we’ve been working towards improved biosecurity. By buying in rams in August, we could have longer quarantine on incoming animals.

Double fencing and hedge planting on boundary fences will be a long-term, ongoing project. 

The incident has been a learning curve, and if scab appears again next year, I hope we will be in a more informed position to tackle the problem sooner.

However, we will need to work together to ensure its eradication once and for all.