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Stackyard News Sep 06

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Photosensitisation Survey To Track Sheep Illness

NFU Scotland is launching a survey of its members to track the incidence of photosensitisation in sheep. During its recent hill farming events, NFUS received numerous reports of the illness being found in flocks, with farmers suffering significant lamb losses as a result. NFUS is also working with the British Veterinary Association in Scotland to circulate the survey amongst vet practices.


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Photosensitisation, known colloquially as ‘Yellowses’, is an extreme form of sunburn which causes great distress in adult sheep and can kill lambs. In the UK, cases of Yellowses have been linked to the consumption of a number of plants, particularly a yellow-flowering plant called Bog Asphodel which grows over the summer months on open, wet ground. The plants release chemicals which make certain cells in the body extremely sensitive to sunlight, with areas of exposed, pale skin suffering extreme burning.

Chairman of the NFUS Livestock Committee Nigel Miller said:

“Photosensitisation, or Yellowses, is a really nasty condition which appears to be a significant problem on some farms. During our hill farm event last month, we received reports of farmers losing anything up to 100 lambs, with several reporting between 20-40 lamb losses a season. Aside from the obvious welfare concern, it is a major financial problem for farms as well, especially on hill ground where lambing percentages may be poorer.

“We are hoping this survey will give us a better picture of the problem. Anecdotal reports suggest that Bog Asphodel is a factor in at least half of all Yellowses cases but there may be other plant or genetic factors which determine whether sheep contract the condition or not.

“We hope this survey will cast light on the prevalence and cause of Yellowses so we can start looking at improved control measures. Obviously, fencing off certain areas where the plant grows to control grazing is one measure but for extensive hill units, fencing is just not an option.

“I would encourage our members and veterinary practices to return the survey form. The more we know about Yellowses, the better chance we have of mitigating its impact.”

Copies of the survey are available from NFUS Head Office (0131 472 4000) or can be found in the members’ area of the NFUS website (Listed as: Photosensitisation (Yellowses) In Sheep).

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