A fast, cheap, diagnostic test for sheep scab has been invented and could be made available for use on farms within three years.
Researchers at Edinburgh’s Moredun Research Institute have used smart technology to design a pen-side test for the notifiable condition which is regarded as one of the most important sheep diseases costing the Scottish industry an estimated £6million a year.
Research scientist Dr Valentina Busin revealed the device to an invited audience which included the Princess Royal, farmers, Government and research communities. She said it had been devised in collaboration with engineers at Heriot Watt University and could give a result within 10 minutes.
“Blood, saliva, faeces or urine could all be used to test for the presence of scab,” she said.
“The device is still a prototype and we’re now looking for an industrial partner to get it into production and it should be available for use on farms within a few years.”
Dr Butin explained that a test might cost as little as £1 per head and could be used to test for other livestock diseases such as enzootic abortion, BVD and Maedi Visna.
The prospect of a pen-side test was immediately welcomed by the Moredun’s regional farmer advisors who were at the event. Bill Wilson, farm manager at Arnbathie, Perth said it would be a valuable biosecurity tool
He added: “We have 600 ewes and also buy in 400-500 lambs so we’re fattening around 1,400-1,500 lambs a year. What terrifies us is buying in animals affected with scab which could go on to infect our breeding stock.”
Hill farmer Sandy Tulloch from Aberdeenshire added that the test would also enable lamb finishers to make informed decisions before buying stock.
“There are strict rules about the time between using a dipping compound or injection to treat scab and then selling the lambs for slaughter,” he said.
“This test will tell us if the animals need dosing or not and allow a farmer to decide if buying them in is going to be cost effective.”
And John Bell, a Moredun director and farmer from Colinsburgh in Fife said that with the incidence of sheep scab on the rise, better control was required to prevent the situation deteriorating in Scotland.