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Sheep farmers are losing 10-25% of early lambs this season to Schmallenberg disease, suggest initial reports. Scanners are reporting dead lambs inside ewes –... Producers face no respite from livestock challenges this winter

Sheep farmers are losing 10-25% of early lambs this season to Schmallenberg disease, suggest initial reports.

Scanners are reporting dead lambs inside ewes – adding to challenges which already include bluetongue virus, winter storms and flooding due to extreme weather, says the National Sheep Association.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Ongoing concerns regarding two impactful and devastating diseases are cause for worry among sheep farmers in several parts of the country.

“Bluetongue was grabbing most of the headlines at end of 2023 – being seen as a big risk for the future. But seemingly out of nowhere came Schmallenberg affecting an increasing number of sheep farms across many English regions.”

Disease impact

Schmallenberg virus causes congenital malformations and stillbirths in cattle, sheep and goats. Animals seem to develop immunity, making it a relatively low impact disease. But it can have a significant impact in some flocks and herds.

Anecdotal evidence from sheep scanners and the Animal and Plant Health Agency suggest Schmallenberg cases are “quite serious” this season, said Mr Stocker. Early lambers were losing 10-25% of lambs in some cases.

With some farmers already feel under pressure, the is urging the farming community to offer support where possible to those currently dealing with distressing cases of Schmallenberg or bluetongue amongst their flocks.

United front

Mild autumn and winter weather has seen bluetongue continue to be found in cattle and sheep on farms in southern and eastern England – with more than 50 cases of the virus confirmed in Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk (see page 39).

Calling for unity across the sector, Mr Stocker said: “This is not a time for various organisations to be doing their own thing and in my mind it makes sense to work together for the benefit of the entire livestock industry.”

Mr Stocker said the assocation was aware of a number of sheep farmers with animals caught up within temporary control zones – unable to return home for either lambing or further finishing.

The association was asking anying who found themselves in this position to contact its head office, which would try to provide contacts who could help with housing, lambing, or feeding sheep that may be stranded.

Get in touch

Mr Stocker said: “We cannot promise anything but we are very prepared to use our networks and contacts to help where we can so please do get in touch with the association and we will try to help”

NSA spokeswoman Katie James said there had been few times in recent years where animal disease had been so worrying. “It is especially important to check in with those close to you who may be potentially affected.”

The farming community was fortunate to be supported by a number of charities which could offer specialised help. The NSA would encourage anyone struggling at this time to reach out to one of these and not to suffer alone, said Ms James.

To reach out for support, call Farming Help on 03000 111999 (7am-11pm)

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Silage performance ‘slow’ for maize

Maize coming out of clamps this winter is yielding good volume – but performance is disappointing, say analysts.

Taken at face value, results for 2023 maize silage look similar to 2022, says Bruce Forshaw, product manager for forage experts ForFarmers. But closer scrutiny has revealed some important differences.

Dry matter is slightly higher for 2023 but the energy available for milk production is lower, says Mr Forshaw. Rapidly fermentable carbohydrate levels are also lower for 2023 with a higher fibre content leading to a lower acid load.

“Overall pH is slightly higher for 2023 too which generally means that silage could be less stable. Meanwhile lactic acid is lower, which isn’t ideal either as it helps to aid the fermentation process and the aerobic stability of the silage.”

Starch in maize is often more available in the rumen after Christmas because it has been in the clamp for a few months, says Mr Forshaw. But it’s important to remember this year that the level of bypass starch was higher to start with

“In effect, we are starting further back and diets may still benefit from different sources of rapidly fermentable carbohydrate in the diet,” says Mr Forshaw. In summary results are showing good volume but their performance in the rumen is slow.

“As always, our advice to farmers is to have their individual silages analysed so that rations can be tailor-made to avoid and nutritional deficiencies or overfeeding.”