Disease fears continue but outlook improving
WORRIES about Schmallenberg disease in North Devon have shifted towards later lambing sheep and to cattle which became pregnant during the warmer days of last year.
It appears the worst of the early lamb casualties might be over.
Nevertheless hundreds of lambs have been lost either to deformities or barren ewes.
Most of the area's farmers hope that their flocks either gained immunity from the disease by being bitten while not pregnant, or were not bitten at all.
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But the suckler cattle herds are due to calve around April and farmers fear losses of stock and and big veterinary bills if their cows suffer abnormal births.
Among the farmers with early lambing flocks was Andrew Hammett of Broadmoor Farm near Chittlehampton, who rears Poll Dorsets.
He said the worst effects of the disease have tailed off for his sheep.
"The second half of lambing has been better but we're still about 200 lambs down," he said.
"We had 77 out of our 400 ewes with nothing, so that's about 120 lambs before adding the lambs we lost at birth."
The disease is spread by midges that bite livestock and was discovered in continental Europe. It appears native English midges now also have it.
Ewes and cows bitten by the midges at a specific time after conception have either proved not to be pregnant at all or have given birth to deformed lambs incapable of surviving.
Mr Hammett said reports of scanned flocks show ewes which became pregnant later on in the year seem to be in lamb and may have escaped being bitten or had gained some immunity.
At Brayford John Blackmore said he had lost up to 60 lambs to Schmallenberg.
"I lost my fair share. I wondered if I was the only one at first but there's a lot of it out there," he said.
"But the general picture is that it's improving.
"I'm down to the last few ewes lambing and what I've been seeing has been good since three days after Christmas.
"My biggest worry now is the suckler cows calving in April and May time. It was those ten days of summer we had in July when they might have been bitten. But we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."