New sheep monitoring schemes aim to reduce risk of disease

UK farmers can now benefit from two new monitoring schemes designed to reduce the risk of disease in sheep.

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has launched the monitoring schemes to sit alongside its Premium Sheep and Goat Health Schemes (PSGHS) accreditation.

While PSGHS Accreditation is the gold standard, the monitoring schemes provide a level of assurance for buyers looking to reduce disease risk. PSGHS Monitoring Schemes are being launched for two important infectious sheep diseases: maedi visna (MV) and Johne’s disease, with potential for other diseases to be added at a later date.

Monitoring will be of value to all flock owners wishing to minimise the impact of disease in their flocks.

The monitoring schemes are based on annual testing of three main groups for each separately managed flock:

  • Targeted testing of high-risk adult animals - either 12 or 20 depending on the size of flock (above or below 500);
  • Testing of rams;
  • Testing a proportion of added animals where they have lower health status, as these pose the greatest risk in introducing disease.

Testing can be done at any time of year but SRUC asks members to allow six weeks before animals are sold to give plenty of time for arranging sampling, testing, and reporting. The farm’s private veterinary surgeon must take the samples.

SRUC Veterinary Services decided on a targeted testing approach, as opposed to testing a random sample, following years of experience detecting disease using “12 ewe screens” which are regularly used by many commercial flocks.

The PSGHS MV Accreditation Scheme also successfully uses 12 ewe screens in non-accredited commercial flocks run by MV accredited members. Targeting of the animals to test is based on selection by the flock’s veterinary surgeon of those that are thinner or have raised poor lambs/had a poor milk yield with no other apparent reason on examination, such as lameness or dental disease. This means fewer animals need to be tested compared to a test based on a random selection of animals.

Another important part of membership is an annual appraisal of farm biosecurity, working through a biosecurity guidance checklist with the farm vet. The Health Status Report for a monitored flock will be awarded annually and will record the number of years that a flock has been monitored.

SRUC’s Dave Wilson, PSGHS Veterinary Manager, said: “We hope that this new scheme will appeal particularly to commercial producers of female breeding stock who want to reassure buyers that they take these diseases seriously, and are working hard to reduce the risk of spreading disease.”

Phil Stocker, Chief Executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said: “NSA plays an active role on the PSGHS Advisory Board and these schemes are something we have definitely encouraged. It is very timely given the growing interest in iceberg diseases and is a great opportunity for commercial sheep farmers to get involved as a method of reducing losses and inefficiencies.”

Carolyn Gill, who keeps a flock of Shetland Sheep in Dorset with her husband David, is the first member of the new scheme.

She said: “We are very proud and pleased that our Shetland flock is the first member in the UK of SRUC’s monitoring scheme. We wanted to have recognised health monitoring at a level appropriate for our flock, and the new scheme is a perfect solution by giving us greater confidence in – and awareness of – our sheep’s health.”

In instances where disease is found, the farmer can take a proactive approach to manage the disease with their vet, benefiting from the discounted test prices available to members.

SRUC Veterinary Services is supported by the PSGHS Advisory Board, consisting of members from the sheep industry, breed societies, veterinary profession, and NSA.

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Posted by SRUC on 12/10/2020

Tags: Sheep, Veterinary Services, Disease
Categories: Animal Welfare