The positive impact of a Flock Health Plan
Type Media Article
By Eamonn Dempsey, Teagasc Advisor, Kerry/ Limerick Region
Flock Health is the key to a profitable, prolific sheep flock. In the day to day running of a sheep farm, the farmer must be conscious of sheep health and welfare. What better way to do this than have a flock health plan. Not every farmer will have a health plan and instead maybe they should ask themselves, why? Farmers involved in the KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER programme are required to complete a flock health plan with their veterinary surgeon. This plan gives a structure to the management of sheep health over the year meaning that farmers will be more aware of diseases and risk periods and be proactive rather than reactive. The flock health plan should not be complicated in dealing with diseases and disorders of the pregnant ewe, diseases and disorders of young lambs, parasites and lameness.
Farming in an environmentally friendly manner, correct stocking rate, good stockmanship skills and good grassland management all play a part in flock health management. So how do we get a flock health plan up and running? The best time to initiate a flock health plan is 6 to 8 weeks before the rams and ewes are joined. The plan will then cover the breeding season, lambing season and the period that sheep and lambs are on grass. If a plan is to be successful, records must be kept: number of ewes mated and scanned, number of lambs born and weaned, barren ewes, lamb losses during pregnancy and in the first week of life. The analysis of records allows an evidence based approach to health planning, Looking at the trends and drawing conclusions to help construct future plans.
With the use of the knowledge gained from accurate records, culling should take place in advance of the breeding season. In assessing ewes for culling, identify and address health issues such as teeth, lameness, udder problems and reproduction problems. Ewes should be examined 10 weeks before mating as this will give farmers enough time to improve condition and health and purchase replacements. As rams are half the flock, they need to be treated with the same respect as ewes. Carry out the recommended physical checks on a ram to ensure good functionality and have spare rams in case rams get sick, injured or die during the breeding season. Culling and use of replacements ensures reduced health issues and increases output. Good grassland management is essential to achieve the correct body condition score at mating and lambing. Knowing when to spread fertiliser, conserve extra grass as silage, grazing out paddocks, weed control and closing off ground in autumn means sheep have access to more leafy grass and there is less reliance on concentrates. If lambing indoors do not overstock and turn ewes out in small numbers into sheltered paddocks to minimise mismothering. Keeping records at lambing time will help to identify barren/aborted ewes for culling and aid other management decisions.
The flock health plan must cover disease, nutrition and pasture management. Young lambs on spring grass are at risk of diseases such as Coccidiosis and Nematodirus Battus. The DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE issues warnings as to when flocks are most at risk of Nematodirus Battus. Farmers know their own flocks and any history of farm problems. This information can be given to the veterinary surgeon and will help shape the flock health plan. As healthy well managed sheep are susceptible to disease, farmers must look at their biosecurity measures. As not all diseases are visible during the early stages of infection, they can enter and destroy a flock e.g. sheep scab, footrot, CODD, and enzootic abortion. Having a well maintained external boundary fence and purchasing sheep from a known source improves biosecurity. Commonages and hills may contain 2 or more flocks grazing together which can present challenges to managing the health status of the flocks that graze there, so good cooperation between shareholders is required.
The use of a sheep vaccination and dosing planner incorporated into the flock health plan will help maintain flock health by tackling diseases in advance – prevention is better than cure.
Under Cross Compliance, Statutory Management Requirement 13 deals with the welfare of farm animals. The flock health plan would ensure animals are kept in good health and allowed express normal behaviour under cross compliance. Participation in the SHEEP WELFARE SCHEME also contributes to the development of animal health and welfare in the sheep sector. Farmers can choose targeted actions such as lameness control, mineral supplementation and parasite control among others, to improve sheep health and welfare. Flock health plans are becoming increasingly important in the sheep industry and play a vital role in sheep management.