Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
The role of KPIs – getting the most from your flock
The Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors share a common goal. By placing preventative health at the heart of their farming system, they all seek to protect both their livestock and their livelihoods.
Did you know that vaccination rates for ruminants lag behind other sectors including human health, equine, companion animals, poultry, pigs and aqua?
More positively, the total number of sheep vaccine doses sold increased by 6% between 2012 and 2020. With clostridial vaccinations having 62% penetration, pasteurellosis vaccinations reaching 46%, EAE vaccines 50%, Toxoplasma vaccines at 31% and footrot vaccinations having an uptake of just 16%1.
Neil Brown farms sheep and beef in Shropshire.
Neil explains how his proactive approach to recording and monitoring data provides additional insights that help him make informed decisions to improve flock health.
Neil believes some farmers are missing a valuable opportunity, as the quality and efficiency of flocks can be increased through the robust health protocols, such as those he’s implemented on farm.
“Having a reactive approach to disease is labour intensive and can make life more stressful. It also means that your reliance on antibiotics increases, which is something we should all be working towards reducing,” says Neil.
Our approach has evolved over the years. It’s impossible to change everything in one go but setting out some clear flock health objectives makes it much easier to achieve your goals.
Working closely with his vet, and wife, Emily from Marches Vet Group on flock and herd health planning, the Browns routinely vaccinate all ewes and lambs against clostridial disease and pasteurellosis. Additionally, the use of EAE and Toxoplasmosis vaccination has helped them overcome abortion concerns in the past few years.
“Time and cost are the biggest barriers to vaccination,” Neil continues. “Trying to get timing right, especially when handling pregnant ewes, can be an issue. So, I appreciate it’s not always easy. For example, we get the most lameness in the Spring and have to juggle when we administer the clostridial and footrot immunisations pre-lambing. While double handling the sheep is not ideal, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the cons.”
Neil believes that vaccination should be a higher priority when it comes to improving scanning and lambing percentages.
I think potentially some farms continue to experience sheep abortion issues because they don’t like change and are unwilling to acknowledge the problem. Sometimes a change of mindset is required.
“This year our scanning results have been good, with ewes overall at 189% and barren ewes at 1.8%. On the whole, I’m quite happy, it shows that the preventative measures we’ve introduced are paying off. We’ve been vaccinating for EAE and Toxoplasmosis for 5-6 years now as we experienced an outbreak. Blood testing showed we had both infections in the flock which meant we started vaccinating.”
As one of AHDB’s strategic farms, Neil is also working to record data for individual animals.
“It’s shown me that anything is possible. It makes life easier going forward, as you have a far better understanding of the health issues that are having an impact - which is a real bonus. It’s still early days, but we’re already seeing the benefits of having this information available to us. It is quite important really.”
For the first time, the Browns will be tagging lambs at birth. In previous years lambs had been tagged at eight weeks.
“We’re not recording the parents at the moment, maybe we will next year. We’re just going to start breaking ourselves in by tagging from birth and record things that way.
“We always keep records of lamb losses on a simple tally chart. It helps us see where we can make improvements and it’s not that hard to do. It’s simple really, you just need to get into the routine of doing it.”
Making informed decisions based on the data you’ve recorded is a positive step, as Neil has illustrated.
MSD Animal Health has a range of resources to support a more preventative approach. This includes a datasheet that guides vets through consultations on farm.
Speak to your vet for more information.