Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

IFA farmer on a drive to rid sheep of lameness

A sheep meeting with a difference takes place at 8pm on Thursday, July 12, at the Bloomfield House Hotel near Mullingar.

The meeting has been arranged by local sheep farmer and IFA member Eunan Bannon who is spearheading a drive to rid sheep flocks of lameness.

Ten years ago, Eunan eliminated foot-rot lameness from his own 250 ewe flock and he wants others to adopt the strategy which worked for him. It revolves around the fact that the bug which causes foot-rot in sheep can only survive on pasture for a max of 17 days when there are no sheep around. He used a combination of foot bathing and freeing pastures of all sheep for three week breaks to rid his flock of lameness. Teagasc and IFA are supporting this drive against sheep lameness and will be attending the open meeting.

Coincidentally, I see that in Britain there is also a drive to cut out lameness in sheep. The Farmers Weekly is promoting a five-point, anti-lameness plan based on quarantine, culling, treating clinical cases, care and hygiene at handling and vaccination. Crucially their plan makes no mention of resting the ground from sheep. I reckon that this is a major flaw in their approach.

There can be no doubt but that lameness in sheep is a worldwide problem. In Western Australia foot-rot is viewed with such alarm that is a notifiable disease. This is in a country where they don't even have to tag their sheep.


A family cousin who was farming 6,000 ewes south of Perth (Australia) had to depopulate his entire flock when foot-rot was detected. While he was out of sheep, he found that life was a lot easier and, instead of returning to sheep, he bumped up suckler numbers instead.

Have you read the new 'Step by Step Guide to the National Sheep Identification System' that has recently been issued to all flock owners?

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The fact that it runs to 44 pages on tagging sheep and keeping records says a lot about the red tape in sheep farming.

Store lamb finishers are the biggest losers under the new regime. Farmers should also be aware of the new rule where farm to farm transactions and even movements between two holdings under the one owner now require movement permits.

In our own sheep flock this spring, we again had abortion in ewe lambs but not in the two-year-olds, some of which had also aborted in their first year. None were vaccinated. The Toxovax and Enzovax vaccines were unavailable for most of last summer so many ewe-lambs entered pregnancy without any abortion protection.

I spoke with a sheep vet based in the west who said that abortion in yearling ewes was widespread in his area this spring. At that stage there was little he could do but recommended a long-acting antibiotic at just more than 100 days into the pregnancy. Even though the antibiotic should only control enzootic abortion, he reckoned that it seemed to help in flocks where toxoplasmosis was identified as well.

The good news from the manufacturers is that the two anti-abortion vaccines should be in good supply for the coming season. We were quoted only €1/kg for wool. This brings it back to a level that barely covers the €2.50 a ewe shearing cost. And our sheep were shorn in one of the few dry windows in the last month, so we don't have a little dampness to help the wool to weigh better.

As I write, I hear that the sheep factories are again trying to pull the lamb prices. Also producer groups say that the factories are trying to reduce both the bonuses and carcase weight limits for the coming season.

Are they trying to get the prices down before Ramadan which starts this year on July 20? With lambs slow to finish and Ramadan demand coming shortly, I reckon we should hold out for the €5/kg. It's all needed in the tough year that were in.

John Shirley farms at Rathoe, Fighting Cocks, Co Carlow

Indo Farming