Farmers seek guidance on Schmallenberg

Farmers have voiced their disappointment at the lack of guidance for farmers on the Schmallenberg virus.

Having met senior Department of Agriculture officials, IFA animal health chair John Waters said breeding season has begun for herds calving in the autumn; these animals are now at the critical stage for Schmallenberg, based on the existing evidence.

“It is important that these farmers are equipped with the latest advice, guidance and the necessary tools to protect their animals.”

IFA sheep chairman James Murphy said a Schmallenberg vaccine, undergoing licensing in the UK, must be made available to Irish farmers.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said last week his department was assessing the impact of Schmallenberg infection, following the end of the calving/lambing season.

Schmallenberg virus has been confirmed on 78 holdings (48 bovine and 30 ovine) over ten counties, with the highest incidence in Cork, Kilkenny and Wexford.

A survey conducted on brucellosis round test bloods will be repeated in June. A similar survey taken last November showed exposure in 24 counties. Nationally, the economic impact is likely to be low. From 4% to 6% of holdings may be affected, with birth deformities in most cases at 2-5% of affected pregnancies, but moderate at worst. The highest level of problems will be in herds with synchronised breeding plans, where large numbers of animals were infected in the critical period of pregnancy in 2012.

Farmers should contact their vet if they encounter aborted foetuses or newborn animals showing malformations or nervous signs, or where lambs or calves cannot be delivered naturally.

Virus disease expert Peter Mertens told the All Ireland State Veterinarians Scientific Conference in Dublin that there is, most likely, massive under-reporting of Schmallenberg across Europe.

He said: “There are some areas in the south of France and Spain where significant numbers of animals are being lost to the disease.”

It’s not clear whether the virus will persist long term in the UK and Ireland, said Mr Mertens, who works at the UK’s Pirbright Institute.

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