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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Deadly sheep virus found on Cumbrian farms

A deadly livestock virus which causes birth defects and miscarriages has spread to Cumbria.

Schmallenberg Virus has been confirmed on three sheep farms.

As farmers prepare for the peak lambing season, a spokesman for Defra confirmed deformed lambings had already taken place.

Antibodies had been found on a further two sheep holdings but no deformed lambs had been born.

Defra vets have appealed for farmers not to panic as a vaccine is just around the corner.

However, they said it would not be ready for this year’s lambing season.

“It is still undergoing tests and has yet to be licensed so there is a little way to go,” said a Defra spokesman. The disease, which is spread by midges, has hit herds and flocks in the south of the country with some farms recording losses of up to 40 per cent.

Last December antibodies of the devastating disease were found in cattle on two holdings in the county during random testing by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA).

Officials have since confirmed that there have been some abortions in cattle, but as yet no confirmed cases of the virus.

David Black, of Paragon Veterinary Group based in Dalston, said 60 per cent of dairy herds in Cumbria had been exposed to the virus.

“A national survey carried out by vets found antibodies of the virus in milk,” said Mr Black. He added: “Clearly it has been through this region but we have not seen any increase in the numbers of deformed lambs. There is no great dramatic outbreak but peak lambing time is end of March beginning of April.”

Penrith vet Chris Swift said Defra vets had confirmed some abortions in calves in the county but were carrying out tests for the virus.

“It is early days for lambs but farmers should be aware of looking for sheep and cows struggling to give birth,” he said.

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