Spring calving suckler producers are being advised to take advantage of the limited stock of Schmallenberg vaccine available and protect their herds pre-service, following widespread reports of the disease.
Several cases have been reported in Northern Ireland in the past month, and monitoring in Scotland of bulk milk samples by SAC Veterinary Services and Livestock Health Scotland also confirmed circulation of the virus during autumn last year in the south west of Scotland.
There is a limited window to protect spring calving suckler cows post-calving, as the vaccination programme ideally needs to start at least five weeks before service, explains Zoetis vet Carolyn Hogan.
She says: “The vaccination programme in cattle is a two-dose programme and offers 12-months of protection. This means cows calving in March and being served in June can be vaccinated with the first dose in April, with the second dose given three weeks later.
"It is not licensed for use in pregnant cows, which is why the best time to vaccinate cows is prior to service.”
Cows are most at risk if they become infected in their third to fifth month of pregnancy (70-150 days), meaning those calving in spring will have cows in their third to fifth months of pregnancy during the May to October active midge period.
Last year, according to the Animal and Health Plant Agency Surveillance Intelligence Unit, there were 101 confirmed cases of the disease in cattle and 125 in sheep.
Vet Keith Cutler from Endell Vet Group, Wiltshire, says while he has not seen any cases in cows this year with herds just starting to calve now, he has seen a ‘smattering’ of cases in sheep.
However, last year he saw more Schmallenberg than he has ever seen, particularly in spring calving cows.
He says: “Vaccination provides good immunity. You’ve only got to save one cow from having a caesarean and the lost value from a dead and deformed calf and that would probably cover the cost of vaccinating your entire herd.”