Amongst sheep farmers in this country you’ll find a medical condition called, ‘dipping flu.’ Basically it’s organophosphate poisoning from the chemicals in sheep dip.
So obviously farmers have stopped using them.
Except for the fact that the use was compulsory up until 1992, and that government knew that they were dangerous.
The reason farmers use them is to treat sheep scab. To quote from one website, “Sheep scab is an acute or chronic form of allergic dermatitis caused by the faeces of sheep scab mites (Psoroptes ovis). The mites are just about visible to the naked eye and can only remain viable off the host (sheep) for 15-17 days. The sheep is the only host where the mites can complete their lifecycle, though there is evidence that they can remain viable on cattle. The lifecycle takes 14 days and the population of mites can double every six days.”
The problem is that Sheep scab is a serious threat to sheep welfare. Infestations can be very debilitating with significant loss of condition, secondary infections, hypothermia and eventually death. The top picture is of a sheep with scab.
Another reason for using organophosphate dip is to prevent ‘fly strike’. This is a condition where parasitic flies lay eggs on dirty wool or open wounds. After hatching, the maggots bury themselves in the sheep’s wool and eventually under the sheep’s skin, feeding off their flesh. It’s one reason why it is so vitally important to shear sheep. Even if the wool is worthless, you’ve got to get it off because otherwise it gets dirty and sweaty and just attracts these flies.
Now both sheep scab and fly strike are perfectly natural. Natural is regarded as a good thing by people who live in major cities with electricity and plumbing and spend their time on their mobile phones, but actually, natural is not an unalloyed blessing and it can be pretty damned cruel and painful at times. So we have to do something to temper the natural. Here are some of the maggots in place.
And the farmer’s dilemma is that organophosphate sheep dips genuinely do protect the sheep, saving them from a lot of pain and distress. Nothing else works as well. Not only that, but there are considerable precautions in place to ensure that the dip doesn’t enter the food chain or the environment. So the important people are in point of fact protected. But some of us are more susceptible to organophosphate poisoning that others. So some farmers have worked with dip all their lives and have suffered very little whilst others have been left crippled by the effects. Still, they’re only self-employed enemies of the people and it’s not as if they’re important. All three main political parties have been in the governments who’ve ignored their plight. To be fair, in another forty years or so, they’ll all be dead and that’ll be an end of it.
But I was chatting to a farmer a bit back. He’d got dipping flu, had it for years. And he was on pretty strong painkillers for the joint pain. Then he’d got another long term chronic condition as well and that put him on even more medication. He’d stepped away from managing the farm, letting his son take over, but he carried on working on the farm and did the paperwork. Small family farms need the labour and there isn’t the money in food production to enable them to pay anybody.
The problem there was an error in the paperwork and that particular government body fines farmers if they make errors. So the family pointed out that the error came about because nobody had realised just how much the medication was effecting him. In the letter explaining this the family had pointed out that he’s now so bad, when he goes out to work, his grandchild accompanies him to keep an eye on him and make sure he’s safe.
Well not unreasonably the government body asked why the Grandchild couldn’t do the paperwork. If they were old enough to be responsible for his safety surely they were old enough to do the paperwork.
At the heart of this issue was the clash of cultures. The civil servants were struggling to cope with the idea that a person so ill they needed this much medication was still working. Can you imagine the shock it was for them when they discovered that the Grandchild who watched over grandfather working, all the while keeping their mobile phone close at hand, was aged about five.
There again, what do I know? Speak to the expert.
As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”