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Disease risks cause for concern this lambing time.

Disease risks cause for concern this lambing time.

The start of 2024 has seen the reemergence of some familiar challenges for sheep farmers in Britain.

As farmers’ attention turns to lambing, disease risk from a new strain of bluetongue virus (BTV-3) and Schmallenberg (SBV), is a serious cause for concern for many.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) alongside the industry has endeavoured to keep sheep farmers up to date on the situation as the sector faces a testing season.  NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “NSA recognises that these hard-hitting diseases are incredibly worrying for sheep farmers in several parts of the country.

“Bluetongue was grabbing most of the headlines at the end of 2023, and despite the immense efforts to avoid the disease actually circulating here still presents a big risk for 2024, but seemingly out of nowhere came SBV affecting a high number of sheep farms across many English regions. NSA has heard from technicians involved in taking semen and embryos for export, scanners, early lambers, and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), that SBV cases are numerous and serious with scanners reporting empty ewes, dead lambs, and early lambers saying they are losing between 10 - 25% or even more of lambs in some cases.”

Early lambing flocks are typically more affected by Schmallenberg as ewes would already be pregnant during the period of high midge activity in late summer and early autumn.  It is hoped that as the weather cools, infection from lower midge activity will also have reduced meaning later lambing flocks will be less at risk from the disease.

Schmallenberg infection in the early stages of pregnancy results in the malformation of lambs that are either reabsorbed, aborted, or born presenting symptoms such as bent limbs, fixed joints and deformities of the spine and jaw.  Adult sheep are unlikely to show signs of clinical disease, and this is why infection outside the critical early pregnancy stage can be helpful in creating immunity.

At a time when some farmers already feel under pressure, NSA is urging the farming community to offer support where possible to those currently dealing with distressing cases of disease amongst their flocks. For anyone currently affected by BTV-3 or SBV or struggling with personal challenges of their own, please reach out for help and support – be it someone you already know or professional help via Farming Help. Call 03000 111999, available 7am-11pm every day or visit


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Disease risks cause for concern this lambing time.