Health planning and biosecurity

A good exercise to start off the new year on the front foot is to review and implement a good flock health protocol. A good starting point is to establish areas of concern, the severity of the problem and control practices to firstly address issues and then prevent them from recurring.

An equally important aspect of any good flock health protocol is a robust biosecurity protocol.

Over the next few months, significant numbers of in-lamb ewes, foster ewes and pet/orphan lambs will be traded on farms right across the country.

Purchasing animals at any stage of the year brings risk but the stakes are often heightened at lambing.

The greatest risk with sheep such as foster ewes surrounds abortion-causing agents being responsible for the loss of lambs.

Chlamydial or enzootic abortion is one of the major threats to be on guard for.

Information on the cause of death in lambs should be sought, and any suspicions on the health of ewes should raise immediate alarm bells.

At a minimum, foster ewes should be kept separate from the main flock and a similar practice should be adopted with orphan lambs.

Animals should be clearly marked to allow for accurate culling decisions at a later stage.

While on the subject of abortion, every case should be treated as a potential outbreak and investigated. Alarm bells should signal if the incidence rate rises above 2% to 3%.

Clostridial vaccine

Reports indicate there are some supply issues again on the clostridial disease vaccine front, with Heptavac-P Plus in short supply.

There have been numerous queries from farmers regarding switching vaccines for the booster vaccine, and whether or not immunity will develop and transfer to lambs via colostrum.

Veterinary advice on the matter says the different titre of antigens in different vaccines makes it difficult to predict if immunity will develop or if it will reliably boost.

This is especially the case where a vaccine is being changed during administration of a primary course.

The advice is to speak with your vet or supplier where issues are faced to try and establish when supplies may be available or to put a plan in place to best deal with the situation.

Sheep conference programme

The 2024 Teagasc lowland sheep conferences take place next week. The first is being held in the Athlone Springs Hotel, Co Roscommon (N37 F9T3), on Tuesday 23 January.

The second takes place in the Clanree Hotel, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, on Thursday 25 January, with both conferences starting at 7pm.

A nutrition presentation delivered by Teagasc researcher Dr Tim Keady will discuss the important subject of properly managing ewe nutrition during pregnancy, and the consequences of such on subsequent ewe and lamb performance.

Ifac specialist Martin Clarke will address a range of pertinent issues from tax concerns, structures, income security and opportunities available to farm families to plan ahead for a more streamlined transfer of the family farm.

Seamus Fagan, Department of Agriculture Regional Veterinary Laboratory, Athlone, will discuss the steps involved in diagnosing and managing health issues on farm.

John O’Connell, Leitrim, Patrick Dunne, Wicklow, and Brian Keane, Wexford, will all share their on-farm experiences of three different flock health issues encountered. Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue will address the conference in Donegal.