External parasites

There has been a greater reported incidence of sheep scratching in recent weeks which is normal for the time of year and ties in with issues being more visual due to fleeces being soiled easier with wet underfoot conditions.

The first step in addressing an issue is to make an accurate diagnosis as while sheep scab and lice are the common perpetrators, there can on occasion be other causes such as bacterial or fungal infections (see www.farmersjournal.ie for more on these infections).

For lice there is generally no wool loss or secondary infections unless sheep have been scratching excessively and skin has been damaged.

Lice can be seen by the naked eye and will move through the wool when parted. The lice parasite is a similar shape to a wasp and is a yellow or pale brown colour. A vet will be quickly able to diagnose using magnification.

Sheep scab parasites on the other hand are more difficult to identify as mites are tiny and barely visible to the naked eye. They are brown in colour, round shaped and feed on flesh so therefore are typically found at skin level where scabby lesions and wool loss are characteristic signs.

A skin scraping by your vet will deliver a quick diagnosis as there are also other mites which can be present. It is also worth noting that sheep scab and lice can be present together.

Plunge dipping will address all external parasites, with no other treatment option covering all the bases. Lice can be treated using suitable pour-on products while sheep scab can be targeted with injectables, but this treatment route is now only recommended where plunge dipping is not an option due to the increase in anthelmintic resistance. It is vital to read product guidelines as treatment advice varies across products.

Ewe lamb selection

The upward surge in the trade for slaughter-fit lambs with finished lamb prices increasing by over €1/kg in recent weeks is leaving many farmers who carry ewe lambs dry over to breeding sales scratching their heads. This is not surprising and it is right to be weighing up what is the best prospect for these lambs – sell in the coming weeks/months or carry over.

Breeding sales in 2021 hit high notes at the premiers but in general the trade failed to live up to the higher expectations, with significant numbers of hoggets trading from €140 to €170 per head.

It is likely that a similar picture will unfold in 2022, with more farmers entering a dry hogget system in recent years and fewer farmers increasing numbers.

As such, those carrying ewe lambs over are well advised to critically review the type of sheep on hand. There are other factors at play for some, such as managing ground and satisfying stocking rate requirements, but the basis of this should be retaining quality lambs which are likely to sell well in any trade.

Worm counts

Reports from advisers and vets continue to show higher than normal worm counts in sheep. This is something to be mindful of and it is wise to continue to carry out faecal egg tests to determine the worm burden. Where lambs are being housed for finishing it is worth ensuring that they have a clean bill of health to maximise performance.