A nationwide shortage of a vaccine to protect sheep from the tick-borne Louping Ill virus (LIV) coupled with a lack of forage means livestock losses could be higher without additional preventative measures.
More than 500 cases of LIV were reported between 1999 and 2012 by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), 78% of which were in sheep.
Typically, ticks tend to be a problem associated with sheep grazing dense vegetation in upland areas like those in the Scottish Highlands and Northern England.
But this year, farmers could see more widespread problems as sheep graze marginal areas looking for grass.
This is coupled with research from the Moredun Research Institute which suggests ticks are spreading geographically and increasing in numbers, mainly as a result of climate change.
Farmers in tick risk areas may consider using an acaricide to protect their sheep.
Graeme Mathers, who farms at Shandford Fern, Brechin, has been involved in various trials on controlling ticks since 2002.
A trial in which a proportion of sheep were left untreated resulted in each carrying 30 to 40 ticks, compared to no ticks in the treated group.
The 1,300-head flock he manages is now treated using an acaricide throughout the year which has reduced overall tick numbers on the hill.
“When we first started looking at controlling ticks on the estate our neighbours thought we were mad as the problem was so bad. But we have proved through hard work and determination by regularly protecting our stock you can manage them. Many farmers in the area are now doing the same.”