A new – and concerted initiative – has been launched to drive down sheep scab infestation levels across the UK.

North Yorkshire-based training provider, Lowe Maintenance, has joined forces with several industry stakeholders including the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association Limited (LAA), to launch its ‘Break the Sheep Scab Cycle’ campaign.

The initiative seeks to raise awareness of the rise of sheep scab, support the management of the condition, stop re-infection and empower farmers to adopt a prevention mindset by working together as a community.

Sheep scab

Sheep scab not only impacts animal welfare, it has huge financial implications. It is estimated that the cost of this disease to UK farmers is £80-200 million per year.

The island of Ireland has been impacted by the disease to a similar degree.

Sheep scab had been almost eliminated 30 years ago when compulsory dipping was a legal requirement, but has re-emerged to what are now endemic levels.

Sheep dipping expert and British Wool representative, Richard Scofield, explained:

“Sadly, the scab has returned with a vengeance, but this time we have all the tools to combat it. If we work smartly and collaboratively, we can break the cycle.

“Responsible treatment and testing are our weapons, but used incorrectly we’re just battling and not winning the war on scab.

“Dipping, where necessary, should be done sequentially from September to the end of November in relation to how high up the flock grazes, taking place before tupping, Scofield added.

“And, of course, coordinating with neighbouring farms is vital. Being open and honest is so important. No, matter the biosecurity,  knowing thy neighbour has never been more important.

“Bolstering this with testing and when there is a breakout, rapid and targeted treatment, and testing in infected farms in the vicinity until scab has gone.”

Disposal of sheep dip

Lowe Maintenance provides online training courses and has launched the UK’s first online City & Guilds-accredited course for the safe use and disposal of sheep dip.

Managing director of Lowe Maintenance, Demelza Lowe, explained:

“The course takes between six and seven hours to complete. Participants can dip-in and out as time permits. There is a one-off fee. We are happy to enrol people from across the UK, including Northern Ireland.

“Anyone wishing to purchase or use sheep dip must be officially qualified to do so. Flock owners using a contract dipping service must ensure that the contractor is officially licenced to use and dispose of these products.

“We have identified a generation gap in qualified dippers, with many farmers who were certified to dip and oversee dipping in the 1980s and 1990s now retiring from farming, there is a real need to drive awareness of certification amongst the younger generation,” she added.

As the 2022 dipping season gets underway, the Lowe Maintenance representative is calling on all operators coming into contact with sheep dips to wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times.

“For sheep farmers, any impact on wool yield is an impact on their income and the welfare of the sheep. It feels unfair because it happens through no fault of their own,” Richard Scofield added.

“It’s also pretty soul-destroying, when you have worked so hard, and looked after your flock, only to get an outbreak of scab before shearing.

“The challenge with scab is that it isn’t visible for a couple of weeks, so the scab infests the flock without anyone knowing. Stepping up biosecurity is also important.”