Sheep scab is present in all counties of NI, according to preliminary results from a new research project.

“There is a lot more scab out there than the Department of Agriculture figures suggest.

“We have identified cases across all six counties,” said Paul Crawford, a local vet who led the project.

“Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, he said his survey of NI sheep farmers also found there was a lack of understanding around key aspects of scab control.

“There was certainly plenty of knowledge gaps, as well as evidence of poor practice with regards treatment and prevention,” he said.

Scab is a highly contagious disease in sheep which is caused by a mite. It can lead to itching, wool loss, reduced animal performance and welfare issues.

Crawford chairs a group of industry representatives who are pushing for a sheep scab control programme to be rolled out in NI.

Ultimately, we want to see scab eradicated

A grant application has been submitted for an initial one-year project that aims to develop more evidence around the extent of the problem locally.

“Ultimately, we want to see scab eradicated, but we also know that before we can even get to the point of doing control programmes, we need to do a little bit more research to work out what is feasible and where the problems lie in NI,” Crawford said.

The Larne-based vet made clear during the briefing that a control programme for scab will require “funding and legislative support”.

The BVD problem has highlighted that it is important to get legislative support in at the beginning

He gave the example of the industry-led BVD eradication programme in NI, which achieved significant progress in its initial years, but has stalled due to a small number of farmers ignoring advice around persistently infected calves.

“The BVD problem has highlighted that it is important to get legislative support in at the beginning, and don’t rely on your minister or Assembly to come good with more legislation further down the line,” Crawford said.