Schmallenberg vaccine expected by summer

Katy McFadyen (aged 10) and Josie Schaeli (aged 9) both of Morebattle Primary School at the BUAS show today in Kelso with shearer Glen Wilson of Bonchester.
Katy McFadyen (aged 10) and Josie Schaeli (aged 9) both of Morebattle Primary School at the BUAS show today in Kelso with shearer Glen Wilson of Bonchester.
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Livestock farmers in the Borders will be able to vaccinate against the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) which causes birth defects in lambs and calves.

Government vets announced on Tuesday they have given the go-ahead for the product, which is expected to be available by summer.

UK farmers will be the first in the EU to have access to the first SBV vaccine, developed by animal health company Merck MSD.

Stow livestock producer and vet Nigel Miller said: “The vaccine is a tool that allows farmers, in discussion with their vets, to proactively manage their animals against exposure to the virus when previous strategies could only be based around breeding in times of low midge and viral activity.”

The NFU Scotland president added: “While it is easier for sheep keepers to consider putting rams out later in the year, for most cattle farmers delayed breeding is not an option and, depending on disease risk, vaccination may be of use.”

The virus, first seen in the Netherlands and Germany in 2011, is spread by midges and causes fever, diarrhoea and loss of milk production in sheep, cattle and goats. If livestock are infected during pregnancy, SBV can lead to stillborn or deformed offspring.

The disease spread throughout England and Wales, and was found in Scotland earlier this year. There are more than 1,750 cases in the UK and five have been confirmed in Scotland, with the expectation the virus will spread this year, said the Scottish farming union.

Mr Miller revealed: “The first results from our ongoing surveillance of dairy herds suggests the vast majority of our livestock remain naive to SBV. Cold weather ensured the virus only made sporadic incursions into south-west Scotland last winter. However, we know the virus can over-winter and with temperatures now rising, there is likely to be more activity in the coming months.

“We will continue to monitor dairy herds across Scotland to track the spread of SBV to allow farmers and vets to plan strategies for dealing with the disease.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s Rural College vets are warning lambs could be at risk from a mass hatch of Nematodirus battus worms expected in the next few weeks when the cold spring is followed by a warm spell. The worms, which climb onto blades of grass then are eaten by lambs as young as six weeks old, can cause sudden deaths, while those that survive are left sick and weak with diarrhoea.

Experts advise using an effective wormer on lambs from six weeks old.

The industry-led group Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep rates the Borders as amber risk. For more information visit www.scops.org.uk