Last week more than 100 sheep and goat producers gathered in Roseburg for a meeting hosted by the Oregon Sheep Growers’ Association and Oregon State University Extension Service.
Veterinarians from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Oregon Department of Agriculture presented the seminar “Sheep Health: Biology and Control of Scrapie.”
Scrapie is a disease found in sheep and goats. It is not a human health concern because it is not transmissible to us. It causes a progressive, terminal illness in sheep and goats that makes them uncomfortable (excessive itchiness, reduced weight gain, difficulty with reproduction) and decreases productivity, so livestock producers were interested in learning about ways to improve animal well-being and ensure efficient production of healthy animals.
The producers had an added incentive for learning about scrapie because earlier this year a sheep in Roseburg tested positive for the disease. Again, this is not a public health problem. In the late 1980s the American Sheep Industry Association requested help from officials to eradicate the disease from the United States. This would improve our export market, which is limited because of our positive scrapie status.
The evening program was very informative. We learned that the U.S. sheep and goat producers have made significant progress in eradicating scrapie. It is actually pretty rare. From October 2012 through September 2013 it was detected in 0.016 percent of sheep and goats tested at a certain age at slaughter facilities through our normal surveillance programs in the U.S.. In addition, there has only been one positive scrapie animal in Oregon this year.
We also learned that sheep and goats can contract the disease only under specific conditions. First, the disease has to be present (remember it is rare to start with). Newborn animals are most likely to acquire the disease, and they have to be genetically susceptible to it. That’s right; there is a genetic component to it. This is great news because we can select sires (rams and bucks) that pass along resistance to our entire flock and herd. In fact, the flock that found a positive sheep did genetic testing and was able to remove any sheep that had the recessive gene that makes an animal susceptible. That is a great example of management to improve animal health and productivity.
We learned that scrapie is not highly contagious and that we can do much to prevent and eradicate the disease. It was explained to us that because the flock in question was in compliance with the scrapie program in its handling of the case, there was no increased risk of disease.
What is needed now is a renewed commitment by all to better identify animals, keep appropriate records and continue to learn about animal health. I think the educational program brought us all much closer to accomplishing this goal.
One of the guest speakers said it best. He said, “Know what comes in, what is on and what goes out of your ranch!”
Shelby Filley is the regional livestock & forages specialist for Western Oregon, based at the Oregon State University Extension Service of Douglas County. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 541-672-4461.