A potentially fatal liver disease for sheep has reached “frightening levels” in Scotland after wet weather in the past year helped parasites to spread, Scotland’s Rural College said.
More than 200 cases of liver fluke disease were recorded from October to December, compared with 57 cases at the same time in 2011, the college said today in a statement on its website. Fluke parasites are carried by mud snails and are passed on to livestock through the grass they eat on pastures, according to the report. The U.K. is the European Union’s largest sheep producer, according to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
“These cases are probably only the tip of the iceberg,” Brian Hosie, veterinary services group manager at the college’s agricultural consulting division, said in the statement. “This massive increase in liver fluke is a consequence of the wet summer and mild winters we have had in recent years. It is impacting on the viability of many sheep farms through reduced productivity and high death rates in flocks.”
Farmers should watch for signs of the disease and treat infected animals especially in the next few weeks, as more livestock begin giving birth seasonally through the spring, the college said. Some early pregnancy scans have detected “significant numbers of barren ewes,” or female sheep, according to the report. Most livestock recover from liver fluke disease when medicated.
“Failure to take action in the next few weeks could result in serious losses at lambing time through weak ewes dying or having insufficient colostrum to feed their lambs,” Hosie said. “These lambs may die of starvation or from diseases.”
Farmers can help prevent the disease from spreading by fencing off wet areas of pasture, moving livestock to drier ground and improving drainage in their fields.
Scotland’s sheep herd totaled 6.74 million head as of June 1, about 1 percent less than the previous year, government statistics show. The total U.K. sheep population is about 32 million animals, according to Defra.