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Farmers count cost of disease affecting lambs
A FARM which has lost £30,000 to a deforming disease is one of at least six affected in Oxfordshire.
And the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned that the full impact of the disease has yet to emerge.
Warborough Farm in Letcombe Regis, near Wantage, lost more than 300 lambs that were born deformed, and 24 ewes which died trying to give birth.
Schmallenberg Disease emerged in Holland and Germany, and has been spread by midges which were blown across the English Channel last summer.
While it is harmless to adult sheep and cows, if it infects a foetus in the early stages of pregnancy it brings about deformities which can also harm the ewe.
Warborough Farm shepherd David Barber said: “In the early stages of pregnancy, the disease causes lambs to be deformed, and once it comes to lambing, you have a hell of a problem getting them out. I am lucky that I have a good team at lambing time.”
Tony Good, 83, who has owned Warborough Farm for 41 years, said it was probably the worst disease he had ever seen in his sheep.
“This has probably cost us around £30,000,” he said.
“But worse than that is the demoralising effect when David is called in at 2am to pull out a grossly deformed lamb, and the ewe is suffering with it inside, it is awful.”
The farm lost about 300 lambs out of about 1,200 – around a quarter of its profit for the year gone.
Mr Good added: “Combined with a reduction in lamb prices of around 25 per cent this year, and feed prices going up, we will make a loss. We need to see vaccines as soon as possible.”
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), since the disease was first found in Oxfordshire last year, five sheep farms and one cattle farm have reported deformed young in their animals.
In addition there have been 27 county cases where blood tests have shown that cows have caught the virus but have not experienced any symptoms or have not given birth to deformed calves.
There have also been four cases where ewes have caught the virus but not experienced any symptoms.
NFU spokeswoman Isobel Bretherton said: “The cases that have been reported might not be the true scale of the problem. This year it will become clearer what the full impacts are.”
A number of companies are working to develop a vaccine.
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