2014-10-02   facebooktwitterrss

Optimising Ovine Performance

Farmer Ian Buchanan hosted a Parklands Veterinary Group ‘Optimising Ovine Performance’ sheep health event in association with MSD Animal Health and Novartis Animal Health.

Vet, John Grant from Parklands Vet Group speaking about Nutrition at Grass – ewe and lamb management - highlighted that a ewe requires three times as much energy in early lactation compared to maintenance. Lambs are very dependant on their mother’s milk for up to 6 weeks with the peak milk yield of the ewe 3 to 4 weeks after lambing.

Farm images

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Ewes need appropriate feeding to ensure good lamb growth as loss of condition in the mothers has a serious effect on lamb performance. When lamb growth rate is restricted over the first 3-6 weeks they never recover to reach their full potential.

Looking ahead John Grant reminded farmers that when grass is in short supply ewes and or lambs will need supplementation. Twin bearing ewes should receive up to 1kg/head/day until grass growth reaches potential.

Creep feeding can be introduced to March born lambs if grass is scarce or where there is a very high lambing percentage, but limit it to 0.5kg per day. “Remember early spring grass has a similar protein level to concentrates but it is one quarter the cost of concentrates and do stock heavily in spring to prevent grass going to stem without overstocking or over-grazing.”

Preventing Lameness to Improve Profitability

With tupping time to hand advice on dramatically reducing lameness from vets provoked a lively debate. The most common causes of lameness in sheep are Scald, Footrot, Shelly Hoof, Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD) and Toe Granuloma.

However scald and footrot account for 90% of lameness of sheep farms in Northern Ireland. Footrot occurs where scald is already established and results in under-running of the horn from the heel forward. Disease is associated with a characteristic pungent odour. Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis was first reported in the UK in 1997. It causes a high level of disease when it first enters a flock with up to 50 % of the flock becoming lame.

Once you have a diagnosis as to the cause of the lameness the next step is to assess the level of lameness on the farm. Count how many sheep are lame. The target is to get the level of lameness to less than 2%. Control options can be summarised as follows;

1) Segregate - The most common way that footrot and CODD enter a farm is on an infected sheep. Segregation of all sheep on arrival on farm and maintaining them separate from the main flock for at least 28 days is essential. All lame sheep should be isolated and maintained as a separate group and treated accordingly.

2) Treat clinical cases promptly - Clinical cases of lameness should be promptly isolated and treated. Routine foot paring of the whole flock has been associated with a higher level of footrot so only pare the feet of lame sheep. Overparing can result in the formation of toe fibromas. Footbathing can be an effective treatment for scald and for the prevention of footrot. For footrot formalin and zinc sulphate are the solutions of choice. Stand sheep on clean, dry surface for at least one hour afterwards.

3) Vaccinate - Footvax is the only vaccine specifically licensed for the treatment and prevention of footrot. In most cases a single dose will provide at least 6 months protection. Vaccination can be used as a part of a control program to eradicate footrot from the farm.

4) Culling - Any sheep that has repeated bouts of lameness should be culled. Footrot is mainly a sheep to sheep disease and infection is maintained in the flock on the hooves of these sheep.


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