Treat lame rams now to aid rates of pregnancy
The rams are out. The raddles are on. And I see sheep farmers pulling the covered ewes out of the field and into the 'assumed pregnant' batch. Some later flocks may not be as far on but, in most cases, it's too late to be doing much with the rams' feet at this stage.
The rams' feet are so important when it comes to tupping and should have been in tip-top shape quite a few weeks ago, in preparation for the covering season. However, any sign of lameness in the ram should be dealt with promptly.
A few quick tips include clipping the toes and cleaning the foot with washing-up liquid and warm water. For raw, open wounds, such as foot ulcers, we must clean them thoroughly. Place a small plug of cotton wool, with iodine or blue stone over the raw area and cover well with a bandage. Bandages nowadays are cheap and made of such material as to leave them easy to apply. Some duct tape over the entire dressing gives it some protection from mud and wet conditions. Remove or replace it in two days. This serves to protect the raw toe for the few days it takes to heal. I cannot over-emphasise this. A lame ram will miss way too many in-season ewes.
Regarding the ewe, her womb is the production factory for next year's crop of lambs. Once pregnant, she must eat enough to feed the growing lamb and, later, to produce milk to allow it to mature. As vets advising sheep-farming clients, we aim to protect that pregnant womb from disease or damage.
Toxoplasmosis is at the front of our minds and has caused quite a stir in recent weeks. It is an infectious cause of abortion in sheep and will cause massive monetary loss on any sheep unit if ever it strikes.
This disease affects humans, cats and sheep. One big spread to sheep is from cats' faeces or dung. Cats in and around a feed house may help reduce rats, but can lead to infected cat faeces mixing in with sheep ration.
In recent years, we had a vaccine available on the market. Last year, however, we could no longer get the vaccine and this year we are in the same boat; no vaccine available in Ireland. It's hoped to get the vaccine next year, but this autumn our ewes are vulnerable. So how do we reduce the spread? Basically, keep the cats away from the sheep feed. Never be afraid to ask your feed supplier if they have cats around the feed mill to reduce vermin threats. If so, how does he protect your sheep feed from contaminated cat faeces? At home, let's keep the cats away from the bags or mixing area. The cat's most infective period is the early years of its life.
We can neuter the cats and keep one or two older cats on the farm. This helps keep other stray cats from rambling in and introducing new infection onto the farm. Treating the sheep in the face of an outbreak is expensive and difficult as it involves adding the medicine to the feed for the entire period of risk.