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Stackyard News Jan 2013

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Barren EweCheck - A Subsidised Flock Blood Test

With sheep scanning well underway in many parts of the country, farmers running a flock with a barren rate greater than 2% can now ask for a subsidised flock blood test to establish whether the cause of the problem is toxoplasmosis.

Barren EweCheck is available from vets until 31st March 2013.

ewes with ram

And at a time when many sheep producers are asking for veterinary diagnostic support to confirm or rule out potential Schmallenberg virus (SBV) infection, it makes sense to investigate whether other diseases are present in the flock at the same time.

Barren EweCheck – the diagnostic scheme supported by MSD Animal Health – is available from vets until 31st March 2013. Producers concerned about flock SBV infection, empty or aborting ewes should talk to their vet about the service as soon as possible.

Toxoplasmosis is the main infectious cause of early embryo loss in sheep and a very common cause of barrenness, abortion and weak lambs born alive. Data from the 2012 Barren EweCheck scheme showed that 83% of the flocks tested had been exposed to the toxoplasma parasite.

“Sheep producers are rightly concerned about SBV at the moment, but it is important to understand that other disease problems could well be at the root of a poor scanning result,” points out Drew McGurren MRCVS from MSD Animal Health.

“For example, toxoplasma is an environmental contaminant spread by infected cats. This means all flocks are at risk because it only takes one brief visit by an infected cat to contaminate the whole farm. The good news is that where toxoplasma infection has been confirmed in a flock the disease can be controlled effectively by a vaccination regime. What’s more, the costs of a prevention programme can be easily covered by a reduction in future flock barren rates.”

Shortly, MSD Animal Health will also launch its annual FlockCheck diagnostic service, which will run until the end of July 2013. This requires vets to take blood samples from 6-8 aborting ewes.

“The 2012 FlockCheck results showed once again that the most commonly diagnosed causes of abortion in sheep continue to be EAE and toxoplasmosis, despite the availability of cost-effective vaccines,” Drew McGurren says.

“Over 300 samples were tested in 2012 of which 86% were positive for toxoplasmosis and 58% for enzootic abortion. Over 50% of the samples (52%) showed exposure to both these diseases.”

Drew McGurren says sheep farmers must remain vigilant to the signs of SBV infection once the lambing season is in full swing. “It is vital that producers report any unusual signs to their vet as soon as possible, but to avoid a confused picture it is as important to rule out other disease problems at the same time. The availability of the Barren EweCheck and FlockCheck diagnostic services means it is possible to do just that whilst we are in this period of uncertainty.”

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