Sheep health professionals have used a conference to highlight the benefits of improved endemic disease control to Government.

Delegates discuss sheep health projects at the conference in Staffordshire.

Meeting at the Sheep Health and Welfare Conference in Staffordshire on November 26, farmers, vets, SQPs, industry professionals and scientists considered what organisers called a “step change” in attitude and action in the sheep industry towards biosecurity, epidemiology and surveillance over the past decade, as well as the acceptance among producers that tackling health and welfare improves flock profitability, environmental impact and consumer perception.

Speaking at the event, deputy chief veterinary officer Alick Simmons said his department (Defra) was playing its part by creating a new disease surveillance system. However, he insisted it was up to producers to use it, through requests for more postmortems and health investigations. This would create a central hub of disease information that would make both individual businesses and the national flock more resilient for the future, he said.

Elsewhere, three farmers spoke about the benefit of what they called a “partnership approach” to disease control, including neighbouring farmers, breed societies, vets, fallen stock service providers, auction markets and abattoirs, and Defra and other Government agencies. The farmers also discussed how to put straightforward biosecurity strategies in place, providing practical examples for other producers to take home with them.

Christine Middlemiss from Defra’s animal health team also attended the conference, and took ideas of how to allocate Government funding for animal health projects. The Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG) – made up of farming, vet and industry organisations – lined up a trio of speakers to discuss sheep scab, highlighting the importance of collaboration when tackling the parasite.

One speaker, vet Joe Henry from Northumberland, described a successful regional sheep scab control programme involving all farmers in the area agreeing a window within which they would all treat sheep. Mr Henry said he saw “no reason” why the model he applies would not work nationally to eradicate scab.

Miss Middlemiss welcomed the comments from conference, saying they would be useful when drafting the necessary tender documents for projects that would come on stream next summer.

SHAWG chairman Peter Baber said the conference was a “huge success”, from both the quality of speakers and high attendance as well as the reinforced SHAWG message to Defra.

“Through the presentations and discussion at the event it was clear the best approach to sheep health and welfare is a team effort involving many different groups of people focused on the same outcomes,” he said. “This conference brought those groups of people together and made definite, positive steps in the right direction.

“SHAWG would like to thank everyone who made the conference possible, especially the sponsors, and looks forward to repeating the event again in the future.”

For more information, visit SHAWG’s website.

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