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Stackyard News Sep 07

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Tackle Sheep Scab with Well-Planned Autumn Approach

Correct diagnosis, appropriate chemical choice and timely treatment of sheep scab this season will save English flock managers significant amounts of time and money, avoid compromising flock health and performance and reduce the risk of resistance development, advises the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX).


texel ewes

Recent studies have confirmed a high level of scab awareness amongst producers, together with considerable interest in co-operating with neighbours to control the highly contagious mite infections responsible for it.

However, they have also shown a relatively large proportion of samples taken from flocks thought to have the disease actually testing negative for scab. At the same time, around 9-10% of producers have been found to be treating scab with inappropriate products.

Because sheep scab and lice both become more prevalent in the winter and cause very similar irritation, itching, rubbing and wool loss, the two health problems are difficult to tell apart. Scab tends to be more severe and, unlike lice which are generally only found on sheep with a Body Condition Score of less than 3.0, can be present in sheep in any condition. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to accurately diagnose from visual symptoms alone.

Precise diagnosis hasn’t been so critical where dipping has been the primary treatment, given the wide activity of OPs against a range of external parasites. The move away from dipping due to strict regulations and towards more specific injectable anthelmintic treatments makes good diagnosis more important.

As well as being a waste of time and money if scab is not actually present, using such anthelmintics inappropriately increases the danger of resistance developing among both intestinal worms and scab mites. It also risks leaving the real cause of the problem and its associated health and performance consequences untreated.

Under these circumstances, EBLEX advises all flock managers to:

  • Assess scab status carefully ahead of tupping;
  • Have the vet take samples if scab is suspected and only treat once it is confirmed;
  • Quarantine any bought-in or returning stock for 3 weeks, observe them closely and, if necessary, treat them to ensure scab is not brought into the flock;
  • Ensure farm boundaries prevent sheep coming into contact with neighbouring flocks;
  • Avoid using pour-ons, jetters or showers to control or treat scab;
  • Dose for the heaviest animal in the group when using injectables; and,
  • Co-operate with neighbours to treat all flocks within a 2-3 week period.

Practical advice for controlling sheep scab and other external parasites is available to all English levy payers in a special Lamb Action for Profit fact sheet – Better Returns from Planned External Parasite Control – available from EBLEX on 0870 2418829 or by e-mailing More detailed information and guidance linked to the factsheet can be obtained through the unique interactive website resource at

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