Thursday, 27 November 2014

A simple but effective approach to scab

There were many inspiring speakers at this year's Sheep Health and Welfare Conference all discussing safety in terms of disease.
The Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG), which ran the event, meet collaboratively to address relevant sheep-related health and welfare issues. Defra and AHVLA use SHAWG to discuss proposed initiatives and provide feedback on surveillance related matters, documentation and programmes that (potentially) have an impact at farm level.
There was plenty of stimulating discussion throughout the day and the last speaker, Joe Henry, was really interesting. He discussed how the approach his veterinary practice has taken with regard to scab has been successful in terms of control.
Joe practices in Northumberland, a large sheep production area, and the problem of scab in the region was a common one. Regular re-infection is costly for farmers, but when it is a disease that can be successfully treated, it is unnecessary.

With that in mind, Joe’s practice developed a five-stage approach that minimised the risk of re-infection.
The five staged approach is pretty simple…
  • Veterinary diagnosis– this is an absolute must to ensure the right condition is being treated
  • Tell all neighbours– they will be affected by your disease status and need to be involved in the treatment programme
  • Have a meeting –all neighbours are invited together with the vets to discuss the plan for treatment
  • Appoint a chairman– this is always a farmer, they will take control of the coordination of treatment
  • Co-ordinate treatment– all treatment of all sheep must take place within a two week window
The secret of the initiative’s success was in ensuring the local farming community worked together to combat any outbreak of scab. By treating not just the infected farm’s flock, but the surrounding flocks as well, the path to further spread is stopped.
In order for the plan to be successful all farmers must engage and to date Joe’s never had a farmer refuse to treat their flock.
And the way his team go about organising it is the key to the project’s success.
Once a farmer reports an incidence of scab to the vet, all neighbouring farmers are invited to a meeting at the local village hall, for them all to sit together and discuss the situation and the impact of further spread.
Joe highlights the importance of killing every single mite, outlines the cost of disease and re-infection and also the treatment options available.
A farmer is elected as the chairperson so that someone who knows the local area is assigned to take responsibility for the implementation of the treatment plan. In order to be effective every farmer must treat all of their sheep within a two-week window. If treatment occurs outside this window or it is not administered properly there is potential for re-infection and the whole process would have to be repeated.
Nothing about this plan is complex, but it works.
It has been carried out for every case of scab the practice has encountered, and they’ve seen the incidence of it drop considerably.
From being an endemic on their patch it is now an occasional problem, mainly thanks to a few feral sheep.
The initiative is an example of how the farming community can work together to tackle a problem head-on and everyone at the conference was pretty impressed.
As Joe said, it’s a no-brainer!