Sheep farmers will have the opportunity to discuss the control of sheep scab in Northern Ireland at a sheep health event in Hilltown next week.

The event will take place in Hilltown Sale Yard, Rathfriland Road, Hilltown, Co. Down on Monday, November 20, from 7:30p.m.

The focus of the event will be on the eradication of sheep scab both at farm level and through sheep farmers, vets and other stakeholders – including the NI Sheep Scab Group, researchers from Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), and Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI) working together locally.

Dr. Stew Burgess of the sheep scab research group at the Moredun Research Institute will answer questions at the event.

He is a sheep scab control expert in Scotland, the Western Isles of Lewis and Harris, several parts of England and, more recently, Northern Ireland.

Burgess said: “Given the levels of sheep scab being detected in NI, it’s important that farmers have an opportunity to come together and hear about the outcome of the recent research project, with the target of gaining information that can help them make the best decisions to help control or prevent sheep scab in their flocks.

“We know that clinical signs of scab can take several weeks or months to develop. However, animal health and welfare can become compromised at an early stage.

“This means that early action taken to prevent scab will be invaluable, and I look forward to engaging in a useful discussion at the meeting about possible strategies to tackle the disease.”

NI Sheep Scab project

Earlier this year, results from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) NI Sheep Scab project revealed that high levels of the disease were being diagnosed through samples from local flocks following farmer-initiated involvement in the project.

AHWNI has been responsible for the delivery of the BBSRC-funded Northern Ireland Sheep Scab Project.

AHWNI said the level of responses to tests on blood samples from sheep in Northern Ireland indicated that some flocks could have been infested with sheep scab mites for a prolonged period, and suggested that there was significant potential for local and onward spread of the disease, given that a high percentage of sheep in these flocks were likely to have been infested.

Chief executive of AHWNI, Dr. Sam Strain, said: “Over 100 sheep farmers actively participated in the recent project, which led to over 100 veterinary visits being carried out by practitioners.

“The farmers gained on-farm advice, free blood testing and assistance with treatment. A high level of interest was demonstrated, as was successful collaboration between farmers and other stakeholders.

“There is a will to tackle endemic diseases in the sheep population, including sheep scab, and the meeting at Hilltown will allow farmers to hear and discuss the latest advice.

“Improving sheep health and welfare through the control of sheep scab will increase animal productivity, address the challenge of antimicrobial resistance and increase environmental sustainability through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”