At the inaugural conference of the Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG) last week, a clear mandate was given to the group when the 224 attendees voted in favour of creating an industry-led sheep scab control programme.
The success of the conference was evidenced by the number of delegates from all over GB, including sheep farmers, vets, advisors and other industry representatives who had to battle through severe flooding to reach Worcester Warriors Stadium, Worcester. The debate around sheep scab concluded a busy day and resulted in overwhelming support for SHAWG to initiate a control programme for England, working closely with existing projects in Wales and Scotland.
Peter Baber, a sheep farmer from Devon and chairman of SHAWG, commented: “This is the first event organised by SHAWG and we were delighted to see so many people and really lively discussion about all the topics covered, from Schmallenberg disease to the development of new technology.
“The final session on sheep scab also clearly showed what farmers want SHAWG to be concentrating on. The majority of the sheep industry is acting extremely responsibly to control scab, but greater understanding of treatment options and timings, and encouragement for farmers to work with their neighbours to prevent re-infection, is clearly needed. We also need to address the small minority of the industry who are ignoring the problem and act as a reservoir of infection.
“SHAWG will take this mandate and work very hard to assess the situation and possible solutions.”
Other sessions at the conference included:-
- Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, called on Government to encourage best practice by creating an animal health and welfare option under Pillar Two of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), similar to the point-scoring approach that farmers currently use to implement agri-environment schemes.
- Professor Neil Sargison (Edinburgh) and Chris Lewis (independent veterinary consultant) agreed the responsibility for the control of endemic diseases rests largely with sheep producers, with farmers needing to take proper quarantine of in-coming stock seriously.
- Piet Vellema, who travelled from the Netherlands, said Schmallenberg’s highly contagious and fast-spreading nature meant it was so widespread in the Netherlands that virtually all stock had been exposed to the virus and were likely to have natural immunity. Alex Cook of the UK agency AHVLA showed SBV surveillance data suggesting virtually the whole of England has now been exposed. When questioned, he said he could saw no reason why the infection would not eventually cover the whole of the UK. Both speakers said the risk for sheep producers was ewes 25-50 days in lamb and, although generally regarded as a low impact disease, SBV could lead to high losses on individual farms.
- Lesley Stubbings, independent consultant, said anthelmintic resistance was a reality on many farms in the UK and double or triple resistance was a growing problem, meaning the two new drench groups must be used strategically to prolong both their life and the life of the three other groups. Gloucestershire farmer Hilary Mann described how she has embraced and implemented SCOPS principles, probably halving the number of times she drench lambs, saving her time and money, slowing down the development of resistance, yet still maintaining high performance.
- Professor Julie Fitzpatrick updated farmers on progress at Moredun in developing new vaccines, including ones to protect sheep from internal parasites and abortion. She explained the challenges and opportunities that new technologies offered the industry, and the importance of support for the development and implementation of research and research institutes to facilitate sustainable development of the livestock sector, not just in GB but also globally.
The sell-out success of this inaugural event will ensure these issues and others raised during the event will remain at the forefront of SHAWG during the coming year. The group will decide when the next event will be held and announce this in the New Year; anyone wishing to register interest for that event should email email@example.com.
SHAWG, which includes a mix of stakeholder groups and hands-on farmers and is core-funded by Eblex, was able to run this first conference thanks to collaboration with the National Sheep Association and title sponsorship from Norbrook Animal Heath. Further sponsorship was gratefully received from MSD Animal Health, Novartis, BOCM Pauls, Agrimin and Bayer.
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