IJERPH, Vol. 16, Pages 5057: Highs and Lows of Lambing Time: Sheep Farmers` Perceptions of the First Outbreak of Schmallenberg Disease in South West England on Their Well-Being (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
The outbreak of a previously unknown and new disease in the United Kingdom, known as ‘Schmallenberg disease’, a disease associated with abortions, stillbirths and fetal deformities in naïve ewes, was reported for the first time in South West England during the 2012/13 early lambing season. Epidemiological studies confirmed that the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) had a severe negative impact upon animal welfare and the productivity of affected flocks. By contrast, there was a specific lack of research on the impact of SBV on sheep farmer well-being. This study aimed to improve our understanding of sheep farmers’ experiences of Schmallenberg disease, and the impact of the first outbreak on sheep farmer well-being during the 2012/13 early lambing season in South West England. Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with six farmers with small flocks of pedigree and purebred sheep in South West England were conducted in 2013. The data were analysed via thematic analysis. The main themes regarding the impact of disease on farmer well-being included: (i) emotional highs and lows are part of a normal lambing season; (ii) negative emotions and memories associated with the Schmallenberg disease outbreak; and (iii) resilience and coping with the unexpected disease outbreak. These novel data present preliminary findings from a small number of sheep farmers, and indicate that for some farmers, an unexpected outbreak of a new and emerging disease for the first time during lambing, and dealing with high levels of dystocia, deformities and deaths in their animals, had a negative impact on their emotional well-being during the peak period of the sheep production cycle.