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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Commercial Training

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The business development manage...

The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

£66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent