CALLS for the rapid introduction of a vaccination against the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) are growing louder as early lambing starts in parts of the UK.
Higher than normal losses due to birth defects are already being seen, according to the NFU, which said farmers were seeing problems ranging from still births to fused limbs and twisted necks in lambs.
The disease has spread from the south, where it was first spotted last year. The latest figures from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) show nine cases in County Durham, one in Northumberland, six in Cleveland and Darlington and seven in Cumbria.
Schmallenberg has now been identified on more than 1,000 farms across the UK and although considered “low impact” by Defra and the European Commission, it can cost individual farms thousands of pounds.
The disease is striking for a second year and comes at a time when lamb prices have dropped to their lowest level in three years, while producers are facing rising production costs.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe, a sheep farmer from Leicestershire, has experienced Schmallenberg in his own flock.
He said: “Any infection present on farm now will have taken place last year and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate issues at the moment.
“But it is important that a vaccine is made available this year to give our sheep farmers the choice of whether to vaccinate their flocks against this disease.
“The other issue to address is a lack of official data to see how things are developing.
“We are therefore working closely with Eblex, AHVLA and other industry organisations on a lambing survey which will be released shortly and that I would urge sheep farmers to complete.”
The AHVLA started carrying out enhanced testing for SBV last year, on sheep in January and cattle in July. The condition, believed to originally have arrived in the UK with infected midges blown across the Channel from mainland Europe, causes late abortions and birth defects in sheep, lambs and goats.
It is carried by the culicoides midge, which is responsible for the spread of bluetongue.
Animals now giving birth to affected young were most likely bitten and infected last year.