The occurrence of sheep scab has become a much more common problem on farms in recent years, says David McClure, Policy Officer with the UFU.

He says it is critical that farmers are aware of the devastating effects that this condition can have on their flock.

Flock owners need to give careful consideration about how to prevent scab entering their flocks and how to treat the disease properly.

In essence, sheep scab is an allergic dermatitis caused by infestation of the skin surface by the scab mite.

This mite is difficult to see with the naked eye, making it challenging for purchasers of infected animals to identify that their new stock are already playing host to a potential nightmare which will soon unfold.

Intense itching and wool loss are amongst the earliest signs visible to the farmer. However, this sometimes only occurs months after the initial infestation. In the more advanced stages of infection, animals lose their ability to thrive, suffer weight loss and death may follow after a period of time.

To avoid scab spreading to clean livestock, best practice is to employ quarantine for all incoming stock.

This facilitates a period of careful monitoring, where a treatment option can be selected if required.

Blood tests can be used to confirm diagnosis where there is any doubt as to the presence of scab on any animal.

If you are in any doubt as to whether scab is present in your flock, consult with your veterinary surgeon immediately to confirm a diagnosis.

Whilst historically a stigma may have existed around the presence of scab within a flock, there is no need for a farmer to shy away from seeking professional advice.

There are only a small range of treatment options available for treating sheep scab and producers must act responsibly to protect these limited methods.

Essentially, farmers can choose from using injectable ivermectin-based products or plunge dipping with organophosphate (OP) products.

It is critical that showers and jetters are not used to apply OP products, and to do so is in fact illegal.

By choosing to ignore this, and continuing to shower with OP, scab mites would be exposed to a sub-lethal dose which not only ineffectively treats but encourages the development of resistance.

In recent weeks, an initiative pursued by the NI Sheep Scab group, was launched to provide farmers with information on sheep scab.

For some years now, the group has been focussed on developing a strategy with the aim to eradicate scab from NI flocks.

A funded pilot project will be available for farmers to avail of from the start of September and if the project manager at Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland (AHWNI) gives approval to a farmer who is having problems with sheep scab, he/she will then be able to avail of a dedicated veterinary consultation on farm, from their own veterinary practice.

This project will not only cover the cost of the initial diagnosis visit, but also has a limited pot of money to assist with the treatment of infected animals.

Funds are limited for this pilot project, but this is a unique opportunity to make inroads into a condition which is a burden to both animal welfare and to the farmer, who often struggles to control outbreaks.

In the first instance, interested farmers should contact Jennifer Martin, AHWNI, at 0751 7599 497.