With spring temperatures rising fast, SAC vets have issued an urgent warning to Scotland’s sheep farmers.
Conditions are just right for the rapid build up of Nematodirus, a parasite that threatens lambs from six weeks old. Many of this year's lamb crop will be at risk from May onwards. A number of cases have already been recorded in the south west, so flockmasters should be alert and ready to take action.
The worms of Nematodirus battus are a particular problem for lambs as they start to eat more grass and can cause sudden death. Those that survive can suffer a watery scour and don’t thrive, leaving them susceptible to coccidiosis and kidney damage leading to renal failure which can also increase losses.
The threat increases when a cold period in the spring is followed by a warm spell which encourages a mass hatch of eggs on pasture. This year spring temperatures have begun to rise earlier so it is anticipated that a simultaneous hatch of N battus larvae will occur from early May onwards.
Heavily stocked low ground permanent pastures are particularly at risk, as are pastures with a history of the disease. If the Nematodirus hatch continues into June, hill lambs on improved pastures may also be affected, especially if they are relatively heavily stocked.
The parasite can kill lambs before any eggs appear in faeces. SAC recommends that if unexplained lamb deaths occur in a flock, the freshly dead carcasses should be submitted to the nearest SAC Disease Surveillance Centre which can either diagnose or rule out the condition. SAC offers a Wormscan service on bulk faeces samples to reduce cost – further details are available from your local SAC Veterinary Centre.
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