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British sheep farmers are being urged to remain vigilant following confirmation of a new bluetongue strain spreading rapidly in the Netherlands. Concern about the... Warning to UK as bluetongue virus spreads across Europe

British sheep farmers are being urged to remain vigilant following confirmation of a new bluetongue strain spreading rapidly in the Netherlands.

Concern about the proximity of the BTV-3 virus to the UK – and eastern region sheep flocks in particular – prompted an emergency meeting of representatives from more than 40 key industry organisations last month.

Sheep Veterinary Society president Joseph Henry said: “What we are advising is three-fold. Farmers need to beware when buying animals in, especially from Europe, take action to report any signs of the disease, and at all times, remain vigilant.”

BTV-3 is transmitted by biting midges which affect all ruminants. The existing BTV-8 serotype vaccine will not offer cross-protection against the new strain, making any likely
outbreak difficult to control, said Dr Henry.

“It is so important that we follow the advice to take action and prioritise good biosecurity measures while remaining extremely vigilant to the disease at this stage. It remains extremely difficult to protect against midges and a vector borne disease.

“There is always a role for good biosecurity and insecticides – but it’s important to differentiate between products licensed for use on animals, and those designed for use on building and vehicles.”

Symptoms of BTV-3 can vary across ruminants. In sheep, they include drooling, mouth lesions, high fever, lameness, swollen heads and sudden death. Cattle can show similar clinical signs as well as teat, eye, coronary band and nose lesions.

Increased risk

NFU chief animal health and welfare advisor Cat Mclaughlin said the disease had reported on hundreds of farms across the Netherlands. It had since been reported in Belgium, she added.

“Due to the nature of bluetongue’s ability to spread via infected midges, and current warm weather conditions, the risk of it reaching the UK is increasing, so we must adhere to advice and do all we can to keep it out.”

National Sheep Assocaition chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We’d strongly advise farmers to beware when buying livestock from Europe, and to request pre-movement testing of animals prior to departure.”

“All imports of live animals are subject to post-import testing with restricted movements until a negative post-import test result has been confirmed, so caution is key.”

Farmers compete for top honours at English Winter Fair

Stiff competition is expected as farmers go head to head in the pedigree and commercial classes for livestock and carcasses at this month’s English Winter Fair.

Held on 18-19 November at the Staffordshire Showground, the fair covers the full livestock lifecycle – from farm to butcher. Alongside the fair’s own classes are several breed society classes, which are always well-supported.

“It’s a really good show – one of our breeder’s carcasses won in the commercial section last year,” says Paul Sneyd, director of operations at the Hereford Cattle Society.

“It’s really important to have the live and dead classes, because at the end of the day we’re selling to consumers, and it’s about showcasing the carcass as well as the breed.”

The number of Hereford or Hereford cross cattle has increased by about 6% over the past year. The South Devon is another native breed targeting commercial farmers It is holding its national calf show at the fair for the second year running.

In the sheep lines, the Ryeland Flock Book Society will be holding its national lamb show

The best young handlers in the country will be going head-to-head for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) Young Shepherd of the Year award.

RBST senior conservation adviser Tom Blunt says: “It’s the second year we’ve held the championship at the English Winter Fair – the timing and location are ideal and the show itself has been very supportive in terms of encouraging the next generation.”