New project to eradicate sheep scab in Wales

Coleg Sir Gar, in partnership with the Royal Veterinary College, has been awarded a project to work closely with the sheep sector to control and ultimately eradicate sheep scab.

The Welsh Government has awarded Coleg Sir Gar the three-year project, which aims to significantly reduce sheep scab outbreaks on Welsh farms. All Welsh farms suffering with sheep scab will be invited to take part in the programme.

Sheep scab is caused by the parasitic mite, Psoroptes ovis. Affecting more than 2,000 farms and 30% of sheep in Wales each year, it causes intense itching in sheep, as well as wool and weight loss, and in some cases mortality, making it a major welfare concern for sheep keepers throughout the country.

As well as reducing outbreaks on farm, the All-Wales Sheep Scab Eradication Project aims to:

  • Improve understanding of the incidence and prevalence of sheep scab in Wales, including the patterns of its occurrence and spread, to best target control measures
  • Promote accurate and timely diagnosis of the disease when it occurs, and treat it appropriately in a successful, environmentally sustainable, and safe way
  • Increase awareness of the importance of biosecurity and safe sourcing of sheep, to control sheep scab, within the context of other infectious diseases
  • Significantly improve biosecurity within the Welsh sheep sector by designing, delivering, and measuring actions to stop the spread of sheep scab on and off farms, at markets and other points of sheep collection, through short and long-range transport and at common grazing.

Participating farmers will be asked to self report to project staff and following this skin scrapes will be taken from affected sheep and if positive, further blood samples will be taken. All farms that return positive results will also be dipped by contractors authorised as part of the programme.

Rural affairs minister, Lesley Griffiths commented: “The sheep industry in Wales is iconic and is our largest livestock sector. Sheep scab is one of the most contagious diseases of sheep and a difficult challenge for the industry.

“Effective control of sheep scab, both on a local and national scale is essential. Sheep must be scab-free to be productive and to have a good quality of life.”

The project will see Coleg Sir Gar working closely with the industry, she confirmed. “I have long said a collaborative approach is key to success and by working together we can reach our goals.”

John Griffiths from Coleg Sir Gar added: “We are delighted to have been awarded the funds to deliver the All-Wales Sheep Scab Eradication Project in partnership with the Royal Vet College.

“Evidence of sheep scab is frequently confirmed across Wales. It is hoped this consolidated industry-wide effort will achieve significant gains in eradicating this disease.”

Dr Neil Paton, technical lead for the programme and lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “Sheep scab causes a severe welfare problem in flocks throughout the UK. Sheep will itch in response to infestation to the exclusion of all else, resulting in wool loss, severe skin lesions, open wounds weight loss, and in some flocks death. By coordinated diagnosis and treatment we hope to reduce the amount of disease seen in the Welsh flock and pave the way towards eradication of the mite.”

The project is expected to roll out in spring 2023.

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