Treatment strategies for sheep scab: an economic model of farmer behaviour

Emily Nixon*, Hannah Rose, Richard Wall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
407 Downloads (Pure)


Ovine psoroptic mange (sheep scab) is a debilitating and damaging condition caused by a hypersensitivity reaction to the faecal material of the parasitic mite Psoroptes ovis. Farmers incur costs from the use of prophylactic acaricides and, if their sheep become infected, they incur the costs of therapeutic treatment plus the economic loss from reduced stock growth, lower reproductive rate, wool loss and hide damage. The unwillingness of farmers to use routine prophylactic treatment has been cited as a primary cause of the growing incidence of sheep scab in the United Kingdom (UK) since the disease was deregulated in 1992. However, if farmers behave rationally from an economic perspective, the optimum strategy that they should adopt will depend on the risk of infection and the relative costs of prophylactic versus therapeutic treatment, plus potential losses. This calculation is also complicated by the fact that the risk of infection is increased if neighbours have scab and reduced if neighbours treat prophylactically. Hence, for any farmer, the risk of infection and optimum approach to treatment is also contingent on the behaviour of neighbours, particularly when common grazing is used. Here, the relative economic costs of different prophylactic treatment strategies are calculated for upland and lowland farmers and a game theory model is used to evaluate the relative costs for a farmer and his/her neighbour under different risk scenarios. The analysis shows that prophylaxis with organophosphate (OP) dipping is a cost effective strategy, but only for upland farmers where the risk of infection is high. In all other circumstances prophylaxis is not cost effective relative to reliance on reactive (therapeutic) treatment. Hence, farmers adopting a reactive treatment policy only, are behaving in an economically rational manner. Prophylaxis and cooperation only become economically rational if the risk of scab infection is considerably higher than the current national average, or the cost of treatment is lower. Should policy makers wish to reduce the national prevalence of scab, economic incentives such as subsidising the cost of acaricides or rigorously applied financial penalties, would be required to make prophylactic treatment economically appealing to individual farmers. However, such options incur their own infrastructure and implementation costs for central government.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-51
Number of pages9
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Issue numberA
Early online date29 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Disease management
  • Farmer decision-making
  • Game theory
  • Prophylaxis
  • Psoroptes ovis
  • Sheep scab


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