Survey Shows One in Six Farms Affected by Schmallenberg Disease
80% of sheep farmers surveyed in the Irish Republic are planning to vaccinate against Schmallenberg Disease before tups are put to the ewes.
Indeed three quarters of all sheep, suckler and dairy herd owners questioned across the RoI are minded to use the new vaccine this year.
Hardly surprising given that one in six farms in the Republic of Ireland and almost one in four farms in counties across the south and south east have been affected by Schmallenberg disease, according to the results of this survey conducted in recent weeks.
Conducted by Dr Pat Bogue of Broadmore Research on behalf of MSD Animal Health, the survey involved face-to-face interviews with 506 farmers. Almost two-thirds of the participants are based in the ‘high risk’ south eastern Irish counties of Cork, Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and Tipperary South where the majority of Schmallenberg infections identified to date have been located.
Dairy farmers accounted for 40% of the participants with the remainder running suckler herds and/or sheep. The average size of herd was 91 dairy cows, 37 suckler cows and 128 breeding ewes.
16.6% of farmers surveyed said they had an incidence of Schmallenberg virus on their farms and a further 6.5% said their farms were possibly infected with the virus. In the ‘high risk’ counties 23% of those surveyed said they had an incidence of the virus while almost one-third (31%) said they were aware of an incidence within five miles of their farm.
When asked about the risk of the disease affecting their farm within the next year, 38% said they felt the risk of infection was likely/very likely. Over one fifth (22%) felt they were unlikely to be infected and 29% did not know if the disease would affect them. . In these south eastern counties where the disease had already occurred half of farmers surveyed felt they were at high risk of being infected with Schmallenberg within the next year.
The concern about the risk of infection was much higher among farmers with larger herd and flock sizes. More than half of dairy farmers with over 70 cows felt they were at risk of infection. The figure for laeger suckler and sheep farms was 40% and 45% respectively.
The survey shows big variation in the level of knowledge among farmers on the most likely time of infection and on the symptoms of Schmallenberg infection. Just over 30% of farmers felt that summer was the period of highest risk and a further 23% said the risk was greatest in the spring. One quarter of farmers said they did not know the most likely time of infection.
Almost half of respondents identified breeding ewes as being most at risk of contracting Schmallenberg while 35% said all livestock were at risk.
When asked about their sources of information on the disease, one-fifth of farmers said they had seen no information. Over 60% said their main source of information was the farming press while around 20% said they had learned about the disease from their neighbours or their vet.
The survey was conducted in the weeks before the license was granted to MSD Animal Health to market a Schmallenberg vaccine. When asked if they would use a vaccine if one became available, 45% said they would definitely use it and a further 30% said they would probably use it. The likelihood of vaccination was highest among sheep farmers with just over 80% saying they would either definitely or probably do so.