On-Farm Incidents

On-farm incidents are a result of poisoning or high residual chemical levels in farm animals destined for the food chain. This includes lead and copper poisoning, ragwort consumption, rodenticides and botulism.

Type of incident 2018 2019 2020
Lead 4 3 10
Copper 0 4 1
Other 3 0 0

These incidents commonly happen in the spring when cattle are put out to pasture and young cattle are usually affected due to their inquisitive nature.

Sources and symptoms of lead poisoning

Lead poisoning accounted for over 90% of all on-farm incidents in 2020. Sources of lead include  lead batteries, flaking lead paint, fly tipping, bonfire ash, burnt out cars and geochemical sources such as old mine workings.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in animals include blindness, odd behaviour including grinding teeth, bobbing head, twitching eyes/ears, frothing at mouth, muscle tremors, staggering, excitability and convulsions. Once an animal is showing symptoms of lead poisoning, death usually occurs shortly afterwards.

What we have done

In response to the consistently high numbers of lead on-farm incidents, we implemented an awareness program aimed at farmers to help prevent these incidents and to mitigate the risk to consumers.

Prevention measures included:

Copper on-farm incidents 

Copper poisoning usually affects sheep.  Sources of copper poisoning on-farm include cattle minerals and feed, supplements such as boluses and drenches, pig or poultry manure, distillery by product feeds and fertilisers (from copper stills) and others such as copper sulphate foot baths and copper piping.

Symptoms of copper poisoning are sudden in onset and affected animals become increasingly weak.  Some sheep may spend time wandering aimlessly or head-pressing.  As the disease progresses, jaundice develops and breathing becomes shallow and rapid due in part to the development of anaemia.

The number of copper on-farm incidents in Scotland have fluctuated in recent years. There was none in 2018, four for 2019 and only one in 2020.

Other on-farm incidents

Other types of on farm incidents are less common but can include rodenticides, botulism, ragwort, ergot, cadmium, arsenic or malicious contamination.

More on this topic

Guidance

On-farm Livestock Lead and Copper Poisoning

Protecting your livestock and Scotland's food chain.