Farmers worried by impact of mystery livestock virus

FARMERS have spoken of their concern at waiting to learn how badly their livestock has been affected by a virus spreading across farms in the country.

The number of cases of Schmallenberg, which can cause animals to be still-born or left with deformities or other health problems, has spread across the country, with a reported number of 83 cases as of Monday, February 27.

The Department for Environment, Food and Affairs (DEFRA), said it believed the virus was transferred from infected midges blown across the Channel from affected areas in Europe.

It said the The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported it was “unlikely” the virus would cause disease in humans, but information was being gathered on the effects and progress of the disease.

Farmers from the area said they were concerned about how little was known about the disease and how badly it might affect their animals when the official lambing season begins within the next few weeks.

Clement Somerset, who is the farmer at the Castle Goring Farm, off the A27, said his lambing season had begun within the last week and already there had been one suspected case of an animal affected by Schmallenberg.

He said: “We have great concerns. The problem is, at the moment we don’t know much about it.

“We need the support from government vets to do everything they can to keep us informed.

“The infection happens in the first few weeks of pregnancy, but that is now done and dusted.

“We need to know whether it’s going to affect sheep next year and whether if they have had it they are immune from getting it again. The problem is they don’t know any more than we do.”

Trevor Passmore, who is the farmer at Church Farm Coombes and also on the south east livestock board of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “As far as concern, it’s huge for us. We could lose 10 to 50 to 60 per cent of lambs, or we could miss it completely and our neighbours could have it.

“It’s completely unknown and this is the problem.

“There’s not only the financial side of it. It’s also distressing to see the ewes looking for their lambs. There’s huge distress for the animals.”

So far in West Sussex there have been six reported cases of sheep being affected by the virus and one cattle, while in East Sussex there have been 16 cases of sheep being affected, but no cattle.

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “As everyone connected with the livestock industry has been expecting, the number of cases of Schmallenberg has increased as lambing and calving begin to gather pace.

“As farmers, vets, and governments continue to gather information about the progress and effects of this disease, it’s vital that farmers continue to report any suspicions they have as soon as possible.”