By Eilidh Corr, Animal Health and Welfare Specialist at QMS
It always amazes me how quickly the seasons come around. Before you know it, those tups which have been at the back of our minds all year suddenly have to get ready for work, often with an influx of new blood to help bolster the team.
Are you buying in animals?
This is the highest-risk activity you will expose your flock to. Once disease or resistance gets in, you can’t turn back the clock, so it’s vital that you protect your animals. When you get newcomers home, isolate them and consider the following:
Are your flock free from a specific disease, eg MV, EAE or Johne’s? If so, source stock from accredited or low-risk flocks. Use the isolation period after the new stock arrive to test for disease in consultation with your vet. Check these animals over thoroughly. Don’t forget to examine their feet carefully, as severe foot disease such as contagious ovine digital dermatitis (CODD) frequently enters farms in from purchased stock – even mild lesions should be treated as per your vet’s recommendation to avoid introducing infection.
New stock could be carrying invisible parasites. In the worst-case scenario these parasites could be resistant to treatment, and if they contaminate pasture on your holding you will be left with problems which are difficult and costly to control. Quarantine treatments for worms, fluke and scab are therefore vital to protect you from these issues, but choosing the right approach is complex and must be done in conjunction with your vet, ideally in advance of the animals arriving. These might be the best vet fees you ever spend, because once resistance is in there it can’t readily be undone – have the discussion! You can find more information at the SCOPS website.
The tup is often the most expensive animal on the farm, but he should repay you with several crops of lambs. However, his cost per lamb will rise dramatically if he dies. While buying a whole bottle of vaccine for a small number of animals may be frustrating, it is a cost you should always budget for. Clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis tend to cause death so rapidly that treatment isn’t effective, so vaccination is your only way of controlling these problems. You could use remaining doses to booster vaccinate store lambs, since the peak risk period for pasteurellosis in this group is late autumn.
T-check your tups early
It takes over 6 weeks for sperm production to recover after illness, so check the following two months before tupping:
Teeth: Are tups sound of mouth? They are about to work hard; they need to be able to maintain feed intake.
Toes: Check for lameness. A tup with sore feet won’t work, so act urgently.
Testes: Are they firm and even? Any areas of unusual texture or lumps?
Trim: Body condition should be good (>3) before tupping, as they will lose condition once working. However, overfat tups may not be energetic enough to work well, so aim for “fit not fat”.
Test: Consider arranging semen examination through your vet to confirm fertility.
Time to take stock
As we prepare for the cycle to start over again, now is a great time to think about health planning. This is an opportunity to sit down with a clear head (not in the early hours while calving a cow!) and talk through things with your vet.
Your plan might be a simple affair, or more detailed – there is no right and wrong here, because each plan should be personalised. The main thing is that you use it to focus on areas where you’d like to see an improvement.
Your vet will guide you, but if you need some ideas, what about one of the following:
Record neonatal diseases: Lambing time can be an exhausting blur, so it is easy to find yourself guesstimating the number of joint-ill, watery mouth or hypothermia cases you treated, and the information immediately becomes less accurate. Think about setting up a whiteboard or using an app to help you record cases as they happen. The information can be useful and revealing, particularly when compared year-on-year.
Plan your parasite control and use post-dosing dung sampling to check the plan is working. You could incorporate grazing management strategies, or you might just want to confirm that any worming or fluke treatments you use are effective.
If you have issues with lameness, implementing a five-point-plan with your vet’s support will help. Controlling this problem will have a big impact on your flock’s productivity, so taking some positive action in the coming year could yield big rewards.
Think about where you would be now, if you had taken some action a year ago. Health planning is a tool to help your flock achieve its potential. It can feel like a daunting process, but by simply recording what you are doing anyway, you can create opportunities to improve productivity and resilience in the long term.