Blackleg surge on southern farms blamed on weather

File photo
File photo
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

Recent heavy rain could be driving a surge in blackleg, particularly in the southern half of the country, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Blackleg is an acute, usually fatal disease of cattle and sheep, caused by soil-dwelling bacteria, which produce toxins that kill muscle tissue (necrosis).

This results in darkened areas of muscle with pockets of gas throughout the lesion and is usually fatal. Some blackleg cases present as lameness or areas of swelling, but in most cases the animals are found dead.

While the disease is not uncommon in Ireland, the Department said that the current increase might be related to recent heavy rain.

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Blackleg bacteria can survive for decades (perhaps centuries) as spores, and outbreaks have been associated with flooding, where the elevated water table floats spores from previous blackleg deaths or burials to the surface.

Other forms of soil disturbance like tillage and drainage can trigger outbreaks by bringing spores to the surface - some farmers will be aware that some areas of their farm are 'blackleg hotspots'

The Department has advised that the disease is common, and the best control is vaccination.

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