JAN 10, 2013: There are worrying signs for farmers and smallholders as Schmallenberg virus has caused severe losses for some early lambers.

The virus was reported to have hit farms up and down the country. North Lincolnshire smallholder Michael Toyne said: “We started lambing our Suffolk x Ryelands and it has been terrible. The virus took its toll and we lost over half the lambs. “We struggled to get the lambs out and, then when we did, we had to put them down because of their joints were fused together and some had no bottom jaw. It has been soul destroying, and we are praying the pure Ryelands will do better.” A Derbyshire farmer, Ben Stanley, who breeds Jacob sheep, lambed 20 ewes and lost 30 per cent of his lambs. He was reported as saying: “Everyone has always had deformed lambs but to pull them out one after another is absolutely heart-breaking. “We have 280 left to lamb but it will be a nightmare not knowing what we are going to get. It’s very frustrating and an emotional rollercoaster, not to mention the financial implications.” CS sheep expert Tim Tyne said: “This disease is going to affect smallholders, as it has now been found almost everywhere in England and Wales. The worst affected will be the earlier lambing flocks, as those ewes will have been exposed to midge activity after mating. Later lambing flocks will still be affected, although hopefully to a lesser degree. “I attended the Sheep Health & Welfare Conference in November, where a Dutch government vet gave a presentation on how the disease spread there last year. It was frightening. “This isn’t something that can be blamed on any particular farming system, or on animal movements, but it is another indication of the way climate change is going to impact on what we have to cope with on a day to day basis.”Veteran CS writer and sheepkeeper Alan Beat, from Devon, said: “I haven’t heard of any problems in my locality as yet, but a recent survey of dairy cattle across north Cornwall and west Devon found that every farm tested showed antibodies to this virus, so it’s clearly widespread. My understanding is that once animals have developed natural immunity there are few problems, the deformities arise when infection first strikes during pregnancy.”But Tim Tyne added: “Unfortunately, now we’re entering the second year of this disease, it appears that the immunity is not as robust as previously hoped.”

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