A free-to-use service for sheep farmers and advisors could substantially reduce lamb mortality this spring, veterinary experts say.
The Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) has launched its web-based forecast to help producers monitor the nematodirus risk to their lambs.
As February showed, the weather in early spring can fluctuate from extreme cold to warm sunshine within a few days.
A cold snap followed by rapid warming can result in a sudden and significant challenge to young lambs, as nematodirus larvae hatch in large numbers.
SCOPS' Nematodirus Forecast shows the nematodirus threat this spring and summer as new season lambs start to graze more grass.
The interactive forecast map is updated daily using data from 140 weather stations around the UK.
Users can zoom into their area, select the nearest or most representative weather station and act according to the predicted risk.
The forecast provides general advice for sheep farmers, advisors and vets to use in partnership to decide the most appropriate approach for individual farms.
Lesley Stubbings, of SCOPS, said nematodirosis was a 'particularly nasty' disease in lambs, causing a high number of mortalities and stunting the growth of many others
"It is caused by the Nematodirus battus worm which, under certain climatic conditions can strike very quickly, with little or no warning.
"Cold weather delays worm hatching so, when we get a sudden change in temperature, as is so common in spring, it can trigger a mass hatch.”
Dr Hannah Vineer of Liverpool University, who developed the forecast for SCOPS, said farmers should be mindful that risk varied from field to field.
“When the predicted risk increases in the local area, farmers should think about ways they can avoid or prevent infection to protect their lambs, for example by moving them to fields not grazed by lambs last year.
"The forecast provides useful guidance to help farmers assess the risk of each group of lambs based on the history of the field, as well as instructions to adjust the risk level for your farm based on aspect and altitude.”
In addition to the main map and general guidance, the SCOPS Nematodirus Forecast includes historic data, allowing users to see when the risk level in their area changed.
There is also the ability to report an outbreak that occurred before high risk was shown on the forecast, to help other users see when particularly high-risk scenarios occur.