Farmers set for anxious lambing season as scientists warn most sheep flocks and cattle herds are infected with Schmallenberg virus

 

Farmers are facing an anxious season for new lambs and calves, as most of the sheep flocks and cattle herds in England and Wales are now thought to be infected with Schmallenberg virus, an emerging livestock disease which can cause birth deformities in newborn animals, Government scientists have warned.

From its first appearance in eastern England a year ago, where it was brought by midges on the wind from continental Europe, the infection has now spread rapidly right across the country as far as the Scottish border and has been found in every county of England and Wales. “Most of the flocks and herds in livestock raising areas are now likely to be infected,” said the Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens.

Britain has about 22m sheep in the national flock and just under 10m cattle, so the number of infected animals is likely to be enormous. But officials have no precise idea of how many, as Schmallenberg has not been made an officially notifiable disease, and the only centrally-held records of infection are those which vets have chosen themselves to submit to the Government.

However, the number of animals actually born with deformities as a result of the virus is likely to be very low - less than five per cent of an affected flock, and affected flocks can be less than six per cent of the total which have caught the disease – although in rare cases, the number of malformed lambs in a particular flock can be as high as forty or even fifty per cent, which is very distressing for the farmer concerned.

The lambing season is beginning now and goes on until May. “Every livestock farmer will be hoping right now that he’s not the unlucky one,” Mr Gibbens said.

The disease, which has no effects on humans, is believed to have arrived in Britain last autumn when infected insects were blown across the Channel from the Netherlands and Germany, where it was first identified.

It is closely related to the much more serious blue tongue virus, which is also midge-borne and arrived in Britain in 2007, but was wiped out by an emergency campaign of vaccination the following year.

While blue tongue can result in a very high mortality rate, Schmallenberg virus hardly affects adult animals, but if sheep and cattle are in the early stages of pregnancy when they catch it their foetuses can be seriously damaged. Animals which have caught the virus and recovered are immune to further infection.

There is little that farmers can do to defend themselves, other than bring all their livestock indoors, or try to alter mating times.

A Schmallenberg vaccine is being developed, and may be ready for use next year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss