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Sunday 11 December 2016

Neglecting the tiniest detail can prove costly

Sheep

Andrew Kinsella

Published 14/06/2011 | 05:00

How often have we heard it said that it is the little things that can trip you up? The same applies to the sheep enterprise. Lack of attention to the minor issues can substantially increase the workload or result in increased mortality.

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The fact that the same problems do not occur in consecutive years very often makes us forget. Take, for instance, the frost last winter. There was a lot of extra work in thawing out frozen water pipes in sheep sheds. Many a resolution was made to apply lagging or take other preventative measures. I would believe that in the majority of cases all this has been forgotten about. Most farmers know about the problem of leaving the loop on baler twine when tying up gates or lambing pens. Likewise, lambs are lost each year by drowning in water troughs as a consequence of a build-up in bedding. Every sheep farmer is caught out some time or another.

I feed meals to ewes suckling triplet lambs for five to six weeks after turnout. This was a great spring with high temperatures and only a little drizzle. The area around the meal troughs became a little greasy -- not really muddy. Yet after three weeks and over a one to two-day period, nearly 20pc of the ewes became lame and had to be footbathed. This was no easy task with very young lambs at foot and it was as a result of my failure to regularly move the meal troughs.

There was probably more mud around the troughs in previous years but the colder conditions prevented the growth of bacteria.

This incident reminds me of a case a number of years ago when a farmer purchased around 150 hill-cross store lambs during August. After three weeks, nearly 50pc of the lambs were lame despite the fact that they were grazing very free-draining fields. He started to look for explanations.

leaking

Management was excellent. However, it took a walk around the field to find that the water trough was leaking and this was the source of the problem. The warm, muddy conditions around the water trough provided a reservoir of infection. The fact that most of the lambs came from a hill and had little or no previous exposure to scald or footrot organisms probably exacerbated the problem.

Lambs do not die of their own free will. Some sheep farmers may think otherwise. There is always a logical explanation but the problem is often trying to find one. This year I had an unusual incident. During mid-May, and over the space of two to three days, I came across two lambs from one group that were depressed, not eating, their ears down and drooling at the mouth. From the symptoms, I suspected listeriosis but these lambs were eight weeks old and had no access to silage.

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The possibility of silage refusals crossed my mind but I always try to make sure that any such material is well covered with bedding when dumped in the field. But these lambs did not have access to this field at any time.

Antibiotics were administered but both lambs succumbed after two to three days. Then I came across another lamb from the same group and it was time to consult the vet. He confirmed listeriosis despite my protestations as to any unlikely sources of infection at this time of year.

I went home, cleaned the water trough as the vet suggested and on walking back across the field everything fell into place. The clippings from mowing the lawn. They had been thrown across the hedge for the past 20 years.

The lambs had been out of the field for about two weeks, during which time the grass had been cut a few times and there was a fairly big heap of material.

There was some mould visible, particularly around the edges of the heap. The heap was immediately sealed off and there has been no lamb death since.

Now, looking back, I think that this practice of dumping the lawn clippings over the hedge may have been responsible for some of the unexplained deaths we have had down through the years.

It also goes to show that you can never be too careful where sheep are concerned.

Andrew Kinsella is a former Teagasc advisor and sheep farmer based in Co Wicklow

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