There’s nothing like a veterinary problem in your flock or herd to sharpen up livestock management. Despite most of us having some sort of health plan in place (a required stipulation as part of quality assurance), sometimes the rules become a bit blurred at the edges.
Routine practices can easily slip into that familiar category of ‘I must give them a shot/dose/jag some of these weeks’.
Back in 2012, I had a problem with liver fluke in lambs and for a couple of years after that I was Mr Zealous in my approach to autumnal preventative treatment.
But eight years is a long time in farming and my precision was gradually replaced by something more relaxed.
All animals were dosed with a combination of triclabendazole, nitroxinil and/or closantel, but not with the same dedicated attitude. Therefore, I had set myself up nicely for a fall and the crash came on Christmas Eve.
Earlier in the autumn, I bought 10 purebred Blue Leicester ewe lambs for Susan.
It was one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions and was a mixture of commercial reality and a bit of fun (she likes any of the crinkly-wooled breeds). Blue Leicesters are the marmite equivalent in the ovine world – you either love them or hate them, and we happen to belong in the former category.
The plan is to cross them with Texel rams and possibly keep females out of them for commercial purposes.
However, they were bought a bit late for vaccinating against the abortion diseases, so we decided to hold off this year and put them to the ram in 2021.
This created its own micro problem, because they had to be kept separate from all other groups of sheep due to the presence of either breeding rams or ram lambs that were being fattened.
Grazing 10 lambs on their own became a slight nuisance, until I had the inspired idea of slipping them into a two-acre field at one end of the farm.
This clever notion turned out to be a poor decision. More than that, it stank of bad management, ineptitude and gross stupidity.
The chosen field floods frequently, is low lying and, after heavy rain, resembles a small lake.
Therefore, not only is it unsuitable for winter grazing with sheep, but putting 10 young, fluke-susceptible females into it (and of a breed not exactly known for any form of hardiness) was foolhardy in the extreme. The entire flock had been dosed with triclabendazole in early November and this maybe meant I took my eye off the ball to some extent.
I was fully aware that there may be some level of triclabendazole resistance on this farm, but don’t forget, 2012 was a long time ago.
There was some sort of vague strategy to follow up with closantel after Christmas, but sure the whole lot were as fat as bears, so liver fluke seemed like an unlikely enemy this year.
How wrong can you be?
The day before Christmas Eve, one of the Blues seemed a bit dull and appeared to be panting.
I caught her and treated her for pneumonia, but, as I left the field, there was a wee voice somewhere in the distance whispering about acute fluke infections throwing up similar symptoms (due to pain and bleeding from the liver).
Next morning, three of them were dull and I immediately phoned the vet.
After a brief discussion, it became apparent that they were carrying heavy fluke infestations and it was all my fault.
We brought them into the yard (two of them lay down as they walked across the second field) and dosed them with closantel and gave them 2ml each of Zactran (there’s no point messing around with cheap drugs in a crisis) to cover whatever other spin-off diseases they would succumb to.
We then slipped them into a paddock beside the yard, reasoning that the dead ones would be easier to gather up the next morning.
On Christmas morning, I received the best present imaginable – 10 living animals that walked up to the trough and ate their meal.
They weren’t exactly skipping up the field, but they had improved dramatically.
One day later and those legendary ears were all pointing skywards again, with even the sickest animals fully recovered.
Within a week, we dosed the entire flock with closantel, so hopefully the threat of liver fluke has receded again for a while.
I intend following up the 10 Blues with another dose in about three weeks, mostly as a precautionary measure.
I’m pretty certain there will be other stock health issues to deal with in the coming seasons, but for the next year or two, I don’t think liver fluke will stand a chance. At least, not for another eight years.