Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) has released a report detailing the results of a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded NI Sheep Scab Project.

Sheep scab is a highly contagious disease of sheep which has become a significant burden for the NI sheep industry in recent years.

This project has demonstrated the widespread geographical location of the disease across NI, and a significant level of interest in dealing with sheep scab.

The project was run by a team comprising representatives from the NI Sheep Scab Group, the Moredun Institute, Agri-Food and Bioscience Institution (AFBI) and AHWNI.

Sheep scab project

The research aimed to assist in sheep scab control, to identify the distribution of the disease within flocks, and to investigate barriers that impact progress in controlling scab.

The project engaged with 155 farmers from across NI, of whom one-third were contacted due to a pilot study following detection of several positive cases in one area of common grazing.

Over 100 farmers went on to participate fully in the project. Participants nominated a private vet, who was funded to undertake a farm visit to investigate whether sheep scab was likely to be present in their flock and to provide advice.

Sheep scab

Veterinary advice on the use of prescribed OP dips and injectables was a feature of the initiative, with the cost of application of dip or treatment with injectables carried by the flock owner.

Results and feedback

The disease was detected in 70% of the self-nominating (suspicious) flocks and was detected in 28% of the pilot (non-suspicious) common grazing area flocks.

These results demonstrate that sheep scab is a substantially greater problem than previous notifiable disease reports would have suggested, according to researchers.

Dipping was the treatment of choice in 72 flocks and injectable macrocyclic lactones (MLs) were used in 16 positive flocks.

Feedback from the project indicated that 81% of respondents would be willing to coordinate the timing of scab treatments with their neighbours.

Barriers to effective control were identified which included the cost of treatment, time to test and treat sheep, lack of awareness of the economic impact of the disease, lack of physical help on farms, reluctance to report infection.

The control of scab will improve animal health and welfare, reduce the need for treatments, environmental and sustainability concerns, farmer costs and decrease selection pressure for anthelmintic resistance, according to the project group.

The project demonstrated that infestation could be controlled through a collaborative approach, because of the availability of diagnostic tools and effective treatments.