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Help us fight Schmallenberg

DAIRY FARMERS have been asked to take the lead in Scotland's defences against Schmallenberg.

It is believed Schmallenberg is spread via midges
It is believed Schmallenberg is spread via midges

To track the possible spread of the virus into Scotland this year, NFU Scotland wants to establish a network of dairy farms across the country willing to take part in a milk testing programme.

By allowing regular testing for SBV antibodies in their milk, dairy farmers can provide a service to all Scottish cattle and sheep keepers by helping identify and chart any spread of the virus throughout this year.

There have already been a large number of cattle and sheep infected with SBV in England and Wales. Exposure to the virus can result in relatively mild conditions in adult cattle and sheep, but where infection takes place during the early stages of pregnancy, it can result in congenital disorders of lambs and calves. English NFU livestock chief Charles Sercombe recently revealed that he had lost 40% of his early breeding flock to the virus.

Scientists expect that SBV will spread to Scotland and start to circulate in 2013, and there is now an urgent need for widespread surveillance to give an early warning of virus activity and allow Scottish farmers and their vets to plan ahead.

NFUS president Nigel Miller said: "SBV is not a notifiable disease but experience in England and other parts of Europe has shown the devastating impact the disease can have on lambs and calves. It is of such importance to our members that we will co-ordinate the testing effort and fund the laboratory work and will be working with SRUC and Biobest Laboratories to circulate the results.

"We need the help of dairy farmers to provide the necessary monitoring on behalf of all the country's cattle and sheep keepers. We want to establish a network of dairy farms across Scotland that will, on a three-monthly basis, provide samples from their milk tank to be tested for the presence of SBV antibodies," he explained.

"Working with SRUC and Biobest, we will analyse those samples, circulate the results and map out the pattern of virus activity in Scotland. Repeated milk testing will track any movement of the virus across the country. If SBV does move into Scotland, the impact will depend on where the disease is, when it arrives and the temperature limits at which the disease can replicate within midges – all questions that we currently cannot answer.

"However, by putting this surveillance in place, it allows farmers and their vets to plan for any impact that SBV may have. It is hoped that vaccination will be an option in 2013," he added. "However, management changes – such as delaying the introduction of bulls and rams – can also minimise the impact of the disease on calves and lambs."

Dairy farmers interested in being part of the surveillance group can contact NFUS animal health policy manager Penny Johnston on 0131 472 4021 or penny.johnston@nfus.org.uk

- European scientists have warned that wild deer can catch and carry the schmallenberg virus, and this week called for the impact on wildlife – and its possible role as a reservoir of infection – to be monitored.

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