SHEEP farmers are being warned to take action and protect their flocks from blowfly strike, with unpredictable weather making the risk variable this year.

Reports of fly strike have already been recorded, with even the smallest challenge having a significant impact on individual sheep and flock production.

Speaking at the Royal Highland Show last week, Sheep vet Matt Colston from Elanco Animal Health in Basingstoke encouraged farmers

to take action to protect their flocks.

He said: “Even in 2012, when it was a miserable summer, sheep were still getting stuck.

“The risk of blowfly is variable at the moment, but it only takes a couple of warm days for the flies to hatch and there will be a serious challenge.

“Often, by the time a problem has been identified, it can be too late in terms of the knock-on consequences on animal performance.

“It only takes two to three days from eggs being laid to them hatching into second-stage maggots, which then break through the skin and start eating the flesh.

“Even a small outbreak could give sheep open wounds as big as a hand.

“It not only causes pain to sheep, but it also sends lambs backwards as even small-scale strike will stop sheep and lambs eating.

“Farmers needed to look at protecting their stock with insect growth regulators and consult their vets about the best product to use, as different products have different meat withdrawal times. It also depends on factors such as the timing of shearing.

Mr Colston also encouraged farmers to look at protecting their flock right throughout the summer and into autumn: “Last October we were still seeing strike, so farmers need to be planning for fly cover until we get a significant frost. One product can protect sheep for up to 16 weeks.”

Facts about blowfly strike

n As soil temperatures rise above 9C overwintered blowfly larvae will start to develop into adults.

n Flies are attracted by the odours of excessive sweating and decaying organic matter.

n Blowfly strike occurs locally and is likely to occur in warmer, humid weather.

n When the left unprotected, blowfly strike can happen very fast and animals can die within a matter of days.