Dealing with sheep scab – part 1

Sheep scab occurs in all provinces, and is a very serious disease that, if left untreated, can infect your whole herd and lead to stock deaths.

- Advertisement -

What is sheep scab?
Also known as brandsiekte, sheep scab is a type of mange or skin disease caused by tiny creatures called mites. Because sheep scab is severe and spreads easily, it’s a controlled disease. That means outbreaks are monitored and the emphasis is on prevention rather than cure. It occurs in all provinces of South Africa, but is especially common in the Free State and Eastern Cape.

What can sheep scab cost you?
Sheep scab can reduce wool, meat, milk and leather production, and reproductive capacity. Then there’s the cost of treatment and control.

How do sheep develop sheep scab?
Sheep scab mostly occurs in autumn and winter. The disease is spread when infested sheep come into close contact with uninfected sheep. The mites move from one animal to the other and live for up to 10 days.

- Advertisement -

What are the signs?
The mites prefer areas covered with wool, particularly on the sides and shoulders. You’ll find them on the tails and backs of haired breeds. After piercing the skin with their sharp mouthparts, the mites feed by sucking moisture from the tissue below the skin. This causes skin irritation. Fluid leaks from the irritated skin and dries to form yellow crusts or scabs.

You’ll see bare, scabby patches and ragged-looking wool from the sheep biting and scratching themselves. The affected areas get larger over time as the mite numbers increase.  You’ll see wool in the sheep’s mouth, or on fences and other objects where the sheep rubs itself. If you inspect the sheep carefully you may feel very small lumps on the skin.

What if my sheep are infected?
If you observe any of the above signs, call your nearest animal-health technician or vet to confirm if your sheep have sheep scab. Remember, biting and scratching make the condition worse, and serious infection can result. Untreated sheep can become very thin and weak and eventually die.

Source: Animal Health for Developing Farmers released by the Agricultural Research Council-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute (ARC-OVI). Contact the ARC-OVI on 012 529 9158.