On this page we cover some relevant health topics that might be useful. This is never an exhaustive list and we’re not giving advice – just trying to help you find out what constitutes best practice in some areas to keep your flock healthy and productive.
We recommend all sheep keepers to educate themselves as to the main disease or welfare threats that can affect their flock throughout the year. Many of these topics are covered in flock calendars and a good reference book can always be helpful. And of course, do consult your vet as required.
Buying in stock & Worming –
When you buy in stock, be it your first sheep; more sheep; a new ram; then always make sure to follow a quarantine wormer protocol to avoid brining resistant worms onto your holding. Ask your vet for their latest advice on this. This Booklet for example, gives you advice as provided by XL Vets (as at January 2020), as well as general worming advice for your flock.
Worming best practice is an evolving subject, so to help you manage your flock do keep up to date with the latest thinking.
Clostridial diseases and Pasteurella –
Both Clostridial diseases (a family of diseases that can affect young lambs, usually fatally) and Pasteurella (which can affect both lambs and older sheep) can cause lamb losses. Luckily both these disease threats can be vaccinated against.
For Clostridial diseases:
- Breeding ewes require a primary course of two injections of an appropriate clostridial vaccine given four to six weeks apart followed by an annual booster four to six weeks before lambing (no longer than twelve months apart).
- Immunity will be transferred to the lamb providing they have had adequate colostrum (lambs should receive 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum within 24 hours and half of this amount within four to eight hours).
- Passive immunity runs out after a few weeks. Therefore, lambs should be vaccinated from about three weeks of age and a second dose should be given four to six weeks later.
- Lambs should be vaccinated with an appropriate Pasteurella vaccine from three weeks of age with a second dose given four to six weeks later.
- Lambs that received two doses in the spring may require a booster where the risk is high in the late summer/early autumn period. Speak to your vet or animal health adviser.
- Pasteurella can sometimes affect shearlings or adult sheep, so for complete safety vaccinate your whole flock.
Vaccines can be bought separately for Clostridial diseases (each vaccine may do a different number of the individual diseases) and Pasteurella, although many drug companies also sell combined vaccines that cover both at the same time. Buying a combined vaccine has the advantage of allowing all older sheep to be vaccinated against Pasteurella at the same time as giving the Clostridial vaccine and your rams and other younger stock can be included and protected with the same vaccine. Ask your vet or local agricultural supply merchant what they recommend.
This article from Farmers Weekly available on the web gives more information on the individual Clostridial diseases.
Foot trimming, scald, foot problems and foot-rot –
This whole area should probably be a Mastermind special subject for somebody who could cover all the different guidance that has been issued over the years as to best practice!
For trimming, “once upon a time” the advice was to trim often and trim hard. Now it is to trim as little as possible and ideally to help your flock by selecting sheep with good feet and legs. This latest advice is much kinder to the sheep (and the sheep keeper’s back we might add).
Many vets run foot trimming courses and it is well worth going on one. And in many multi-vet practices there is usually one vet who is a “foot expert” or at least the most interested in sheeps’ feet – a contact worth cultivating.
Scald (inflammation between the digits often caused by long or wet grass, mud, or dirty bedding in sheep housing) can affect lambs and adult sheep. As the bacteria causing scald are from the same family as those that cause foot-rot it is best to treat it as soon as possible.
Foot-rot is a serious condition and can result in needing to cull sheep that do not respond to treatment – both for that sheep’s welfare and to avoid spreading the infection. Dealing with foot-rot effectively requires advice from your vet.
When lambs are not thriving and / or have dirty rear ends, people’s first thought is often “worm burden”. But the cause can also be Coccidiosis. The only sure way to know is to take faecal samples and have your vet analyse them – for worms and coccidia.
Coccidia are single-celled, microscopic parasites that live and reproduce in animal cells. On pasture and in buildings the coccidia oocysts (eggs) are very hardy and can survive for long periods including over winter. They are resistant to drying, freezing, heat and many disinfectants. Older sheep usually have built up an immunity but can still shed low numbers of oocysts which can initiate infection even on clean pasture and in buildings.
It is in lambs that the disease is most dangerous. Lambs take in pathogenic coccidia oocysts (eggs) by mouth. Inside the gut, the oocysts hatch, invade the gut cells and multiply dramatically. The coccidia emerge by bursting the cells open – damaging the inside lining of the lamb’s gut. A dramatic number of oocysts are shed in faeces and this can be many million times higher than the number that were ingested. It takes two to three weeks from infection via the mouth to passing oocysts in faeces.
There are two aspects to preventing clinical coccidiosis – environment and licenced treatment.
At pasture, contamination levels are reduced by regularly moving to clean grazing and avoiding fields that carried young lambs in the previous season when possible. Lambs with ewes at lower stocking densities have a much lower risk of disease. Areas around creep or fodder feeders can become heavily contaminated and should be moved onto fresh ground daily.
In buildings, feeding troughs, water buckets and all equipment needs to be regularly cleaned with an effective disinfectant and bedding kept clean and fresh.
For treatment or for prevention, there are three licensed ingredients – diclazuril (e.g. Vecoxan), toltrazuril (e.g.Baycox, Toltranil and Cavezuril) and decoquinate (e.g. Decoxx). The first two are given by oral drench, the third as an additive to feed or an additive to mineral licks.
Vaccine and drug transportation, storage and use –
Many vets now offer Use of Medicines courses that are recommended for Farm Assurance. This will cover aspects like storage, safety and correct usage of drugs. This is especially important in this era when all farmers are under pressure to minimise anti-biotic use wherever possible.
This snippet from one course shows that we can always learn something new –
Whenever you’re collecting drugs or vaccines from your vet or storing them on your holding, always make sure to follow the recommended storage guidelines. Otherwise the efficiency of the drug or vaccine may be impaired.
This may sound like obvious advice but, for example, if a vaccine requires storage at 2-5 degrees C, then it needs to be in your fridge – easy. But it also needs to be kept cold when you collect it from your vet and take it to use on your flock. A car dashboard in the sun for two hours is not going to be ideal even if you put the vaccine in the fridge when you get home! A thermal bag (sometimes provided by drug manufacturers, or an insulated lunch bag works too) is the thing to use.