A DUTCH farmer who has first hand experience of the devastating affects of Bluetongue is urging UK farmers to vaccinate against the disease.

Jakob Pustjens will spend Thursday at Thirsk auction mart describing his experiences to farmers and driving home his message.

His visit is part of a tour of English and Welsh livestock marts during February and March organised by Merial Animal Health and the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

Bluetongue was first discovered on a few sheep farms in the south of The Netherlands in 2006 . Many other farmers did not think they would be affected - but it quickly spread.

Mr Pustjens said: "As a farmer you never think that bluetongue will affect you until it does.

"Unfortunately, by the time that livestock show visible signs of the disease it is already too late to prevent it.

"I knew many farmers in the north of The Netherlands who thought that the disease would be confined to the south and would not reach them - it did and they were left counting the cost."

Mr Pustjens has 100 Holstein Friesian dairy cows and 90 heifers on the family farm at Nederweet in the south of The Netherlands where he is also an agricultural management consultant.

He said many farms in his own region were very badly affected by bluetongue.

"One of my clients saw their average annual milk yield decline very quickly, from over 7,500 litres to less than 6,000 litres," he said.

"On another high-performing unit the average daily yield fell from over 40 litres to under ten litres in less than a month. A quarter of the herd eventually had to be slaughtered."

His own farm was affected in the autumn of 2007 after neighbouring herds developed problems.

"Over 20pc of our cows had problems with their feet and subsequently difficulty in walking, milk yields dropped and cows were more difficult to get back in calf.

"Although I believe that we got off very lightly compared with many other farms in my region the disease still cost us 10,000 euro to 15,000 euro.

"In 2008 when the Dutch Government gave us the green light to vaccinate, we didn't have to think twice!

"My advice to farmers in the UK would be to vaccinate before bluetongue is diagnosed in their area otherwise it could be too late."

Chris Dodds of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, said they believed Mr Pustjens visit would be of immense value to farmers.

He said: "Livestock auctions are central to the UK industry and we are happy to play our part in these visits.

"Bluetongue is a major concern to all of us, so any initiative that provides clear information and facts based on experience is to be welcomed and encouraged."