Research veterinarian, Paul Crawford, is developing a farm management programme to address the challenge of sheep scab in Northern Ireland.

He spoke on this matter at a recent Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) webinar.

According to Crawford, very little has been done up to this point to quantify the impact of scab on Northern Ireland’s industry.

He went on to confirm that getting accurate data in this regard is his first priority.

"Eradicating sheep scab is now a confirmed objective for all stakeholder organisations operating within the sheep industry," he explained.

"And a working group was specifically set up to move the project forward.

“This took place in 2019. However, the intervening Covid-19 pandemic has greatly held up all work to this end.”

Sheep scab in Northern Ireland

Crawford admitted that sheep scab is, almost certainly, endemic within Northern Ireland’s sheep flocks.

"As part of the work undertaken up to this point, we have explored some of the barriers to better control," he said.

"People with particular expertise in specific areas were asked to input their thoughts to the working group on how best to get to grips with scab.

"Working group members have also met representatives of the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs committee at Stormont, to brief them on the need to eradicate shesp scab.”

Crawford also confirmed that no academic research had been carried out, up to this point, to investigate the real prevalence of scab in Northern Ireland.

As part of his ongoing PhD research project, he has recently carried out an internet-based survey of sheep farmers on the matter.

"Initial indications are that scab is more prevalent than the official figures published by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs [DAERA] would indicate," he said.

Eradicating scab

Crawford believes that bespoke legislation will be required to eradicate scab, drawing parallels with the ongoing Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) eradication programme.

“The current BVD initiative is getting us 93% of the way, or thereabouts, towards the full eradication of the disease," he stated.

“But there remains a core of farmers who are not complying fully with the current measures.

"Legislation is the only way that these matters can be addressed. And there are obvious parallels, in this regard, between BDV and scab eradication.”

Northern Ireland’s sheep scab working group has applied for Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funding to allow it to investigate, more fully, the impact of the disease across a range of disciplines: Economic, animal welfare and environmental.