Livestock farmers warned to look out for Schmallenberg virus

Livestock farmers across the UK are being urged to stay vigilant for the signs of Schmallenberg virus and report any suspected cases to the authorities.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) has confirmed there is a spike in cases in cattle and sheep this winter, particularly in early lambing sheep flocks.

Apha has received recent reports of Schmallenberg, including acute cases in cattle and reduced conception rates, early embryonic deaths and abortions in sheep.

See also: Visit our Know How centre to find out more about Schmallenberg virus

Ten cases of Schmallenberg virus infection in livestock have been detected in England through Apha’s scanning surveillance system since December 2023.

The Defra executive agency is offering free testing for the virus where lambs, kids and calves are born with deformities.

To take advantage of the offer, farmers are being urged to contact their vet, as sampling of foetus and placenta may be preferable and can enable investigation of other causes of abortion without further charge.

NSA update

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said: “There definitely are more reports of Schmallenberg virus coming in.

“We have had these from farmers and technical centres who are doing blood testing of the virus for the export of semen embryos. That’s where it first came from, really.

“They were testing ewes for donating embryos for semen and they were finding a lot more were Schmallenberg-positive.

“Since then, we are getting a lot more reports from the field from early lambers with foetal abnormalities and from scanners as well.”

Mr Stocker said it was possible the industry could see an increase in cases this spring, with immunity waning in sheep flocks.

He advised farmers with suspected cases to first discuss the issue with their vet and take advantage of free Apha testing, if deemed necessary.

“If farmers are having aborted or twisted lambs, foetal abnormalities either through abortion or full-term births, they should speak to their vet and get a histology done on those deformities to see what’s behind them,” Mr Stocker said.

“Get any foetal abnormalities tested through Apha. If we know, we can manage it.”

No cases in cattle – NBA

Neil Shand, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said: “We have heard there have been some Schmallenberg cases from lambs born in December onwards, but we haven’t heard anything in cattle so far.”

Although Schmallenberg is not a notifiable disease, farmers are advised to contact their vets if they encounter any suspected cases of newborns or foetuses that are stillborn or born with deformities.

An Apha spokesperson said: “While infection with Schmallenberg virus is not reportable, we encourage farmers to vigilant for the signs of this disease and to contact their private vet if they have any concerns over the health and welfare of their livestock.”

  • Contact your local Apha office immediately on 0300 303 8268 if you suspect a case of Schmallenberg