Farming News - New campaign to ram the Sheep Scab message home

New campaign to ram the Sheep Scab message home

16 Jun 2022
Frontdesk / Livestock

Land-based training provider, Lowe Maintenance, has joined forces with several industry stakeholders including The Livestock Auctioneers Association Limited (LAA), Bimeda, and Biobest, Lyme Disease UK to launch the Break the Sheep Scab Cycle Campaign.

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

Sheep scab not only impacts animal welfare;  it has huge financial implications.  It’s estimated that the cost of this disease to UK farmers is £80- £200 million per year (Nixon et al., 2020).

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.

While the highly contagious disease in sheep doesn’t pose a risk to humans, it can rip through a flock before any symptoms are displayed. 

Richard Scofield, Sheep Dipping Expert, and Assessor with over 20 years of industry experience explains: ‘Sadly, 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 if 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. And of course, coordinating with neighbouring farms is vital. Being open and honest is so important. No, matter the bio-security -  knowing thy neighbour has never been more important. Bolstering this with testing and when there is a breakout, rapid & targeted treatment, and testing in infected farms in the vicinity until scab has gone.’  

Campaign materials are all available to download, including posters, social media posts, and a handy ‘how much dip should I use’,  tool, which can be found here: along with dedicated podcast episodes on Lowe Maintenance’s Up Hill and Down Dale podcast linked to Breaking the Sheep Scab Cycle coming soon.

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. In recent months, the uptake of the course has been high, with farmers from across the UK.

Managing Director of Lowe Maintenance, Demelza Lowe, says: ‘Raising awareness of the prevalence of sheep scab is vital. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be.

The fact scab had all but been eradicated, gives me great hope that we can do it again. Our course has been designed to empower, educate, and work towards eradicating sheep scab through safe dipping operations.’

Demelza continues: ‘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.’

Vet Karen Swindlehurst, BVMS, MRCVS, a farm animal vet specialising in flock health, explains:We are seeing a significantly higher incidence of scab than in the past. The recent development of a blood sample to screen for scab infestation is a game changer in the diagnosis and control of the parasite. The fact that we can detect scab within two weeks of exposure makes this an incredibly useful tool in diagnosis and control. We can, for example, screen purchased sheep to ensure we are not introducing scab. 

Control depends on good biosecurity and quarantine measures in flocks alongside timely treatments of all sheep. A key element here is the coordination between neighbours to ensure treatments are carried out in a short time interval. This prevents infestations from being constantly spread. 

In fact, shepherds working together will tackle the stigma around the condition and in turn, reduce the number of cases. To get a diagnosis and tailored health plan, speak to your local vet.‘ 

Many steering committees are working on longer-term interventions, such as vaccination, faster testing, and community focussed initiatives. 

This campaign supports all stakeholders, especially The Moredun Research Institute & Biobest, who have and continue to revolutionise testing, with the availability ELISA, and their initiative testing in scab hot spots across the UK.

Two methods of control

Currently, there are two methods of control and treatment, the first famously known as sheep dip, which uses organophosphate, (OP), and the second the macrocyclic lactone injectable products (MLs).  

When a flock is treated with the MLs, ivermectin, or doramectin, it must be remembered that they do not offer any protection from reinfection. Sheep have to be relocated to a clean pasture to prevent reinfection from the mite-infested environment. Scab lives in the location, off the sheep, for 17 days. 

The ML moxidectin offers protection of 28 or 60 days depending on the concentration used. Some injectables require one treatment and some require two- remember to check the label for the correct protocol.

We are now seeing issues with resistance following the widespread use of MLs. ML resistant scab mites were first identified in 2018 and sheep gut worm resistance to MLs is common in UK flocks. As one of our five worming groups available for sheep, we need to protect them and reduce the rate of development of resistance to manage roundworm burdens. 

Also concerns over the environmental impact of ML in the environment - dung beetles 

Sadly, cases of sheep scab mite resistance to the MLs were first confirmed in 2018, which has meant more and more farmers are now turning to OP to protect and treat their flock.

The additional expense of caring, treating, and adding labour is obvious but the impact on the business of farming, especially on the wool yield can be devastating.

A spokesperson from The British Wool Board, said: ‘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. 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 sheering.

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 bio-security is important. Plunge dipping, where the risk dictates it necessary, before tupping with neighbouring farms is crucial.’

Many people are unaware that it is a criminal offense not to have a license when dipping, you can face a fine and worse still a prison sentence.

Lowe Maintenance is the only training institute that delivers the Safe Use of Sheep Dip Course online, which means it is fully accessible to farmers across the country. The assessment can be done at their centre in North Yorkshire.