Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
An example of proactive flock health planning – how can sheep farmers improve performance?
At the end of 2021, Tim and Louise Cooke made a 300 mile move from Hampshire to the Galloway Hills to take on a brand new farm in a starkly different landscape.
Reflecting on their first lambing season at Nether Laggan Farm, the Cookes have learnt a lot! They’re working closely with their new vet on proactive flock health and breeding improvements.
A new lambing system
The day after our big move up to Kircudbrightshire in mid-March, our 900 EasyCare ewes began lambing outside. At our farm in Hampshire we’d always lambed inside so this experience was definitely an eye-opener! We were very thankful that the weather remained dry and mild throughout.
In Hampshire, we were also used to doing regular night checks on the expectant ewes inside. Not doing this was a big change - we felt a little out of control, which was difficult, although we can’t complain about getting a good night’s sleep during lambing.
We relied a lot on early morning checks around the lambing fields, but when you go around and find that things haven’t gone well, picking up the odd dead lamb, it’s tough. You can’t help thinking that if one of us had been there, perhaps we could have intervened.
Thankfully, we saw very little watery mouth but did have some joint ill cases, which is always disappointing. Being outside it’s very hard to catch the lambs at more than 24 hours old to treat their navels. These things are all part and parcel of an outdoor lambing system, which we’ll have to get used to.
At the start of lambing season, we were met with a lot of prolapses. Possibly this was because we moved them into the well grassed lambing fields two to three weeks before lambing at a low stocking rate. The ewes ended up doing a little too well late on perhaps.
Looking ahead, we’re focusing on soil status to improve flock mineral health. In the past, the farm sold mainly store lambs, and we’d like to finish more off our own ground but it seems to lack something.
Our vet Gareth Boyes from the Ark Veterinary Group has advised us to give the sheep a cobalt and selenium drench whenever we bring the flock in. Already we’re learning that it’s well worth investing in a proactive relationship with a specialist sheep vet.
We’re also focusing on improving our grassland. We’ve been liming a lot and have already tested 20 fields for their mineral status – we certainly want to be more focused with our fertiliser policy and hopefully save cost here.
Blood test any aborting/barren ewes to screen for any underlying disease problems such as enzootic abortion (EAE) and/or toxoplasmosis.
We’re also looking at our ‘EasyCare’ breeding policy. “We are already thinking about doing something different tup wise and will look at the composite Exlana breed. They are wool shedding, very maternal and produce plenty of milk, whilst being low input sheep. We will also be looking for good feet and teeth, as well as high worm resistance and, naturally, the ability to produce good finished lambs.”
Our biggest flock health challenge this year was lameness. The ewes’ feet suffered more during lambing, and the upland terrain doesn’t make it easy to catch and treat the sheep when it’s needed.
We can’t be doing with managing lame sheep, on either welfare or cost of production grounds. The estate owner doesn’t like to see lame sheep either and is supportive of our plan to stamp it out.
To try and tackle the problem, we will be culling hard this summer - both in the shearling replacement group and amongst the older ewes. Anything that needs more than two treatments will have to go.
Later in the summer, when the weather’s drier, we’re planning to vaccinate the whole flock against footrot. We know it will take time to get on top of things, but Tim and I are optimistic that we can improve the procedure in preparation for next season.