Scottish Farmers Drive Schmallenberg Surveillance

NFU Scotland is to drive forward Schmallenberg surveillance in Scotland and is looking for Scottish dairy farmers to help with the monitoring effort.

In England and Wales, a growing number of cattle and sheep infected with the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) are being identified and the disease is progressing northwards.  Previous surveillance in Scotland identified animals carrying antibodies to SBV but these had been brought into the country from at risk areas.  However, there is an expectation that the virus will spread to Scotland and start to circulate in 2013.  Surveillance will give an early warning of virus activity and allow Scottish farmers and their vets to plan ahead.

Exposure to SBV can result in relatively mild conditions in cattle and sheep but where infection takes place during the early stages of pregnancy, it can result in congenital disorders of lambs and calves.  Infection may also be linked to poor breeding performance.

Spread by midges, the virus was first identified on German and Dutch farms in 2011 and spread throughout parts of Europe and southern England. Results from surveillance across GB in 2012 indicated much wider evidence of spread of SBV and sero-positive animals have been found in the North of England.  

To track the possible spread of the virus into Scotland this year, NFU Scotland, in partnership with SRUC and Biobest, will identify a network of dairy farms across Scotland to take part in a milk testing programme.  By taking samples regularly from a dairy farm’s milk tank, and testing it for SBV antibodies, dairy farmers will provide a service to all Scottish cattle and sheep keepers by identifying any spread of the virus into Scotland this year.

Dairy farmers interested in being part of the surveillance group can contact NFUS Animal Health Policy Manager Penny Johnston on 0131 472 4021 or

NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said:

“SBV is not a notifiable disease but experience in England and other parts of Europe has shown the devastating impact the disease can have on lambs and calves.  It is of such importance to our members that we will co-ordinate the testing effort and fund the laboratory work and will be working with SRUC and Biobest Laboratories to circulate the results.

“Evidence suggests that SBV presents a genuine risk to Scottish cattle and sheep this year.  Although we have not yet found acute disease in Scotland, we need to take action to establish this surveillance so that the threat can be tracked in the coming months.

“We need the help of dairy farmers to provide the necessary monitoring on behalf of all the country’s cattle and sheep keepers.  We want to establish a network of dairy farms across Scotland that will, on a three-monthly basis, provide samples from their milk tank to be tested for the presence of SBV antibodies.

“Working with SRUC and Biobest, we will analyse those samples, circulate the results and map out the pattern of virus activity in Scotland.  Repeated milk testing will track any movement of the virus across the country.   If SBV does move into Scotland, the impact will depend on where the disease is, when it arrives and the temperature limits at which the disease can replicate within midges - all questions that we currently cannot answer.

“However, by putting this surveillance in place, it allows farmers and their vets to plan for any impact that SBV may have.  It is hoped that vaccination will be an option in 2013.  However, management changes – such as delaying the introduction of bulls and rams – can also minimise the impact of the disease on calves and lambs.”

Notes to Editors

  • NFU Scotland is working with SRUC and Biobest to identify a network of dairy farms across Scotland that would be willing to take part in a series of bulk milk testing for SBV antibodies to try and identify any spread of the virus into Scotland across this year.
  • Participants will need to agree to submit three samples for testing at three monthly intervals and the results from these sentinel herds will provide critical information for all sectors when the mapped information is released at the three milestone testing periods. This information should help producers across Scotland in planning for breeding and possibly vaccination, should a vaccine become available later this year.
  • Potential farms will be approached by one of the partners, or can put themselves forward. Farms will be selected on the basis of geographical spread and to be of most benefit should be closed herds, or herds that have not bought in large numbers of animals from high risk areas of England or mainland Europe over the past 24 months.  Closed herds and those sourcing replacements from the local area will offer the best source of data.  Individual herds will be selected to provide geographical cover of Scotland.
  • Selected farms must be willing to commit to providing the three samples for testing, the first in or around April, the second around July and the final one around October. The samples will be analysed by Biobest or SAC for the presence of SBV antigen and the results used to map incursion of the disease.
  • Participants will also be required to submit details of any movements onto the units in the past 24 months to help interpret the results. They will also be requested to provide up to date contact details so reminders can be sent out at the time the next samples are due.
  • NFUS approached SAC Vet Services and Biobest Laboratories to get this surveillance scheme in place and will be co-ordinating the test effort and assisting in the identification of suitable partner farms. NFUS is funding the laboratory work and will be working with SAC vet services and Biobest Laboratories to circulate the results.
  • Dairy farmers interested in being part of the surveillance group are encouraged to contact NFU Scotland’s Animal Health Policy Manager Penny Johnston on 0131 472 4021 or
  • NFUS Scotland's President, Nigel Miller talks about the new surveillance arrangements in our video blog secion - News For U in 60 Seconds.  To view click here


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 22/11

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