FARM vets in the North- West have joined forces and are taking a leading role in disease surveillance – with the emerging Schmallenberg virus one of the key areas of their focus.

Farm Vets Northwest has been formed from 11 practices in Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire specialising in production animals, and between them have 110 vets.

David Catlow, of member practice Oakhill, of Goosnargh, said: “One of the catalysts to forming the group was our desire to collaborate across the region and take a leading role in disease surveillance on farms and, in turn, help our farmer clients control disease.

“We felt that by working collectively with the links and the geographic spread we have, we could be at the forefront, sharing knowledge and experiences and being able to alert our clients as quickly as possible about the spread of disease and how we can implement control strategies, including vaccination when it becomes available.”

Working with MSD Animal Health, Farm Vets Northwest has begun a programme of on-farm tests of dairy cattle and sheep to help determine the incidence in the region of the Schmallenburg virus, which is borne by midges and is associated with a reduction in milk production in dairy cattle and late abortion and birth defects in cattle and sheep.

As part of the survey, 50 milk samples from dairy herds across the North-West showed 39 positive, seven negative and four inconclusive.

This indicates that some livestock are carriers of Schmallenberg virus and the group plans to help farmers manage the outcome. Each of the practices has initially taken bulk tank samples for their dairy farmer clients for testing, funded by MSD Animal Health, as part of the surveillance scheme.

Blood-testing of sheep will follow to give a more detailed analysis of the incidence of the disease.

Ian Anderson, MSD Animal Health’s veterinary adviser said: “MSD Animal Health has developed a vaccine based on wild-type Schmallenberg virus that has been inactivated and contains an adjuvant that stimulates the immune response.

“In the studies to date, safety and efficacy has been demonstrated in cattle and sheep.”

The company is working closely with the regulatory authorities but cannot speculate when the vaccine will be available.

Industry experts are concerned at the lack of statistical evidence of the incidence of the disease which is now in its second year.

Surveillance is unlikely to be funded by Government because of spending constraints – but it is believed that Schmallenberg has already spread to the North- West.

Positive tests for the virus will be plotted on a map to show its extent in the Farm Vets Northwest region and highlighted to livestock farmers.

The group plans to raise farmer awareness of the disease through an information document, and vets will collaborate on the very latest disease and vaccine information.

The vets are also keen to work together to fight other major livestock diseases, such as BVD – the target of a Government-backed eradication scheme in Scotland – and TB.

As well as sharing resources and knowledge, the group’s member practices want to encourage new entrants to the profession to work and stay in the area.

Committed to supporting the region’s predominantly dairy, beef and sheep producers, this is reflected in continuing professional development for vets from member practices – a further benefit of working together as a group.

The groups practices are: Cumbria – Belle Vue Vets, Wigton; Craig Robinson Vets, Carlisle; Farm Gate Vets, Kendal; Galemire Veterinary Hospital, Cleator Moor; Rowcliffe House Vets, Penrith; The Green Veterinary Surgery, Skelton.

Lancashire – Ribble Vets, Penwortham, Preston; Stanley House Vets, Colne; Farm Gate Vets, Lancaster; Oakhill Veterinary Centre, Goosnargh.

Yorkshire – Dalehead Veterinary Group, Settle.

PHOTO: front, from left, Robin Brown, Ribble; Ian Hunter, Galemire. Back, from left, David Walmsley, Stanley House; Andrew Fairley,
Craig Robinson Vets; Sabine Boye and Pieter Vinter, Rowcliffe House; Mark Stott, Farm Gate; Neil Roberts, Dalehead; David Catlow, Oakhill