I have a friend who once remarked that, irrespective of what statement is made, the addition of the word ‘but’ at the end completely changes the meaning of the entire sentence.
With that in mind, I’d like to announce that this year’s lamb crop has performed better than ever before, with all lambs sold off farm by the third week in November.
However, there is a ‘but’ and it takes into account a fair bit of angst along the way, with additional money (in the form of concentrate feeding and veterinary medicines) being thrown in their direction.
For a couple of years I have been aware that coccidiosis has been lurking around in the background, waiting to spring a nasty surprise on vulnerable lambs.
Can of worms
When I finally decided to grasp the nettle and admit there was a problem, I had no idea that I would be opening such a complex can of worms.
Like most farmers, I reckon that dosing all lambs for cocci is like dosing for stomach worms: perhaps they don’t all need it but a broad net catches everything along the way. That was my first big mistake.
All lambs were dosed with Tolracol (toltrazuril) in early May at my vet’s recommendation. Irrespective of whether they had cocci or not, toltrazuril has the advantage of protecting as well as curing this horrible parasite.
Therefore, when a batch of weaker lambs (triplets, pets, ewe lamb doubles) remained a bit dirty during the summer months, I thought it prudent to investigate further. This meant sending off dung samples and I duly collected fresh amounts from a few suspects. Results showed high levels (500 eggs per gram – threshold is 200) so I knew the protectant part of the first drench hadn’t been a resounding success.
My next bout of inspiration was to go and sample a batch of lambs that were thriving well, firm of dung, and displaying characteristic signs of contentment, i.e., bouncing down the field when shifted.
By my reckoning, they would show only trace levels of coccidiosis.
Instead, they had the highest levels of all lambs (750 eggs per gram), which left me, once again, with that familiar feeling that the older I get, the less I know.
Judging by these results, it seems that it is entirely feasible for a fit and healthy lamb to be carrying high levels of coccidiosis, without any growth check or hindrance to their physical wellbeing.
On the other hand, a certain type of more vulnerable animal may be hit hard by only moderate levels of infection. What other conclusion can I draw?
It is probably worth pointing out that stomach worms (according to the faeces analysis) were not a feature, although once again, Levafas Diamond seemed to dry all lambs up better than any other product. I realise this merely confuses things even further, but that is what was happening on the ground.
The probable reason for the smaller lambs being factory fit sooner than normal is only partly due to repeated controlling of worms and coccidiosis.
In truth, I came home from holidays in late July, took one look at this particular batch, and decided they were too horrible to work with for five months till Christmas.
In early August they were weighed, dosed again for cocci, and anything under 36kg was separated out and fed 300g of a blended ration.
Forty-eight of them were fed for six weeks (and given preferential grazing) before the first 16 were sent for slaughter. A month later another 16 were ready, and off they went too. The last 16 were weighed mid-November, and that brought the curtain down on this year’s lamb kill. The cost of meal in this batch varied from £4.50 to £11.00 per head, depending on how soon they were sold. Given the sort of weather we had during the autumn, I was more than happy with this level of spend. As things turned out, grass disappeared and they would have needed supplementation in December anyway.
The vaguely annoying conclusion that I have drawn is that no matter how hard I try to establish a simple and bombproof system for fattening lambs, things just seem to get more and more complicated.
So for next year, it seems I’ll have to be prepared to take regular dung samples, perhaps dose multiple times for parasites that should be easily controlled, and possibly throw plenty of the best medicinal product of them all towards them – the meal bag.