NFU Cymru is encouraging Welsh sheep farmers to make use of a new free sheep scab testing service, while also urging that funding for a full eradication programme be brought forward as soon as possible.

The news comes after Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths MS, confirmed on Thursday's (November 5) NFU Cymru Conference that funds previously earmarked for a sheep scab eradication programme had been reprioritised as part of efforts to tackle Covid-19.

The minister did, however, acknowledge that sheep scab remains a serious threat to the industry and pledged that securing funding for this project remained a priority.

NFU Cymru is endorsing the minister’s call for Welsh farmers to take advantage of the free examination of skin scrape samples from sheep showing suspected clinical signs of sheep scab.

The scheme is operated by the Animal and Plant Health Association (APHA) and funded by the Welsh government, running until March 31, 2021.

The initiative will aid accurate diagnosis, which is a prerequisite for appropriate treatment and successful control of sheep scab; a priority of the Wales Animal Health and Welfare Framework.

The scheme will also encourage sheep farmers to work with their veterinary surgeon to protect their flocks from sheep scab.

The free sheep scab testing service will see testing undertaken at APHA Carmarthen VIC, which is also the centre of expertise for disease surveillance of extensively managed livestock.

Samples will be received in the usual way, via the farmer’s veterinary surgeon, and should be posted direct to Carmarthen VIC. Sample submissions must be accompanied by full clinical history to qualify for free testing.

'Sheep scab is an absolutely dreadful disease'

NFU Cymru Livestock Chairman Wyn Evans said:

"Sheep scab is an absolutely dreadful disease with serious welfare and production implications if it is not accurately diagnosed and treated promptly and effectively.

It is a disease that we really need to get on top of in this country and I would encourage farmers across Wales to contact their vets and make use of this testing opportunity.

"Stakeholders from the sheep sector in Wales have developed and put forward to the Welsh government an eradication plan for sheep scab and we were pleased that in January 2019 the minister committed £5 million of Wales RDP funding for sheep scab eradication.

I am extremely disappointed that this funding has still not been allocated to the industry, but in response to a question I asked on this matter at the NFU Cymru Conference yesterday, I feel somewhat reassured that the minister recognises the importance of this money being made available to support the industry initiative.

"I was heartened that whilst the minister said that she has had to delay the £5 million funding because of reprioritisation of the budget due to Covid-19, she gave an assurance that the scheme is at the top of her priorities when looking at future budget allocations," Evans concluded.