2013-05-02 xml
Forecasting Flystrike Online

A new web-based early warning service to help farmers decide when to protect their sheep from flies has been launched by the National Sheep Association and Scotland’s Rural College.

Maggots hatching from fly eggs cause sheep great suffering so it is important to get the timing of any treatments right. With changing weather patterns disrupting age old, date-based predictions it is hoped the new service will be more reactive. Now SRUC and NSA are urging farmers to help them mount their early warning service.


photo © Jennifer MacKenzie

Flystrike has been identified as one of the five most important diseases for sheep farmers and fifth (along with liver fluke and sheep scab) in terms of cost. Despite the availability of good dips and pour-on treatments, an estimated 1% of the national flock is struck annually. Infestation levels can vary greatly from region to region depending on a wide range of factors including climate, geography and the way sheep flocks are managed.

Flies are active when the average minimum temperature gets above 8.5°C. Egg laying females are attracted by dung or urine so sheep with digestive upsets caused by fresh new grass or parasites can be vulnerable. The hatching larvae (maggots) like to shelter in the high humidity of sheep wool and begin to feed on the live sheep which has affects on welfare, health and productivity.

John Vipond, Senior Sheep Specialist with SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College believes the launch is timely, given the season.

“The late spring will delay the occurrence of fly strike,” he says. “Compare this with last year when March which was exceptionally warm and it makes a nonsense of any fixed-date based preventative programmes for fly strike. For example conventional wisdom says the flystrike season is 16 weeks, yet I met a farmer in England whose lambs were struck in April, while some ewes were caught out unexpectedly in November. That’s double the ‘accepted time.”

Farmers would much prefer to protect their sheep than have to treat them so, in conjunction with the National Sheep Association, SRUC has developed a map-based website to inform farmers when there has been a problem in their area. Starting from this year it will build up a data base showing the pattern of flystrike in the UK from season to season. The organisers are asking farmers to report their own cases of flystrike, on the site. While they are asked to use the first four digits of their post code their entries will be anonymous.

Phil Stocker, Chief Executive of the National Sheep Association, emphasises that preventative treatments are advised and expected.

“This website is an aid to timing of preventative treatments and informs on strike outbreaks. The service will help farmers particularly when unexpected outbreaks occur and when length of product efficacy has been reduced by wet weather. If sheep keepers check the site regularly there will be less chance of them being caught out by an early fly season and more chance of avoiding running out of protection when it is still needed.”

John Vipond says: “The more effectively farmers treat their ewes for fly strike the fewer flies will be about. The insecticide treatments available are powerful and very effective, but they should be used in a targeted manner to avoid fly larvae developing resistance and to limit any adverse environmental effects.”

As has been shown with other sheep diseases, the changing weather patterns mean problems are arising in areas which previously escaped them. The partners hope their initiative will reduce flystrike outbreaks, give more information on what is actually happening, and help those who have not previously had a problem. However they warn the success of their idea depends on how farmers participate and report incidents and urge all sheep farmers to visit the website, prepared by SRUC Future Farming Systems in Inverness, via the links below.

Flystrike Alert website
National Sheep Association website
John Vipond can be contacted on 0131 535 3215.


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