St Albans farmer fears for wellbeing of spring lambs

This newborn lamb is happy and healthy, but the Schmallenberg virus is causing lamb birthing defects

A ST ALBANS farmer is anxiously awaiting the birth of 600 lambs in April as reports of a virus which causes foetal abnormalities show cases in Herts have quadrupled in the past few weeks.

According to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) infection has been identified on 158 farms in the UK.

Eleven of the positive cases have been diagnosed in cattle and 147 in sheep. Cases have been identified in nearby Hemel Hempstead among rare Norfolk Horn sheep at Boxmoor.

The virus is transmitted by vectors such as midges, mosquitoes and ticks and has been blamed for causing late abortions or birth defects in newborn cattle, sheep and goats.

DEFRA has said that all the evidence currently suggests that the disease was brought into the UK from infected midges blown across the Channel.

AHVLA updates on the progress of the virus in the UK show that in Herts there was one sheep farm identified as being afflicted with the virus as at February 21.

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That had increased to four farms in the county by March 2, and five by March 5. But there has been no reported increase since then.

A spokeswoman for the AHVLA would neither identify the farms hit by the virus, nor narrow down the areas they are in.

Farming sources in St Albans, though, say there have been no signs of SBV here.

Jamie Burrows, who farms 1,000 sheep at the third-generation family farm at Sandridgebury, and at Gorhambury, for Lord Verulam, said that 600 ewes were due to start giving birth at both properties within the next few weeks.

He said; “I am a bit nervous about the lambs. It’s the unknown really.”

The 29 year old added that he would be watching the ewes closely, in case they need assistance lambing. However he is remaining positive that his flocks may have immunity to SBV.

The new virus, identified in November 2011, was named after the German town where the virus was first identified.

In early 2012, the first cases were suspected in the south and east of England, with the disease diagnosed following the testing of deformed lambs.

Malformations include bent limbs and fixed joints, brain deformities and damage to the spinal cord.

At Oaklands College, where lambing is already underway, farmers there too have been keeping a close eye on the flock, with a spokeswoman saying, “they are very aware of it”.

She added: “Fortunately we haven’t had it.”

No human cases have been reported in any country, and according to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, a Europe-wide assessment has concluded that the Schmallenberg virus is unlikely to affect people.