Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Keep a close eye on hygiene and cleanliness to remain step ahead of infectious diseases

Peadar O Scanaill

EARLY flocks have plenty of this year's lambs on the ground, so now is the time to run through our disease control and prevention programmes.

Indoor lambing means we must keep a very close eye on hygiene and cleanliness in the lambing area. A footbath at every entry and exit point that is topped up and refreshed at regular intervals is a must.

The bedding area must be dry, deep and fresh to give the new arrivals a good laying area for their first night or two.

It is here and in subsequent pens that we see all the disease problems building up. Remember that if you cannot kneel on the bedding without getting a wet mark on your knees, then the lamb cannot lie safely either.

Some tips in relation to assisting a ewe having difficulty lambing are appropriate at this point. Clean, fresh warm water is a essential when assisting a lambing ewe. To explore the birth canal, we must wash our hands with soap and warm water and then rinse and dry them properly. A pair of disposable plastic or latex gloves should then be worn with plenty of purpose-made lubrication applied to the hand before reaching in to assist the lambing.

For quick and simple assistance during lambing, a soaped-up hand can be used. Find the back leg and quickly bring it forward for the very easy cases of assistance.

In more technical cases, veterinary help should be called earlier rather than later in the day. If, however, the shepherd feels capable of doing a little more than a quick handle of the ewe, then copious amounts of correct lubrication must be used. Hand-washing soap or washing-up liquid will very quickly irritate the birth canal and cause the area to swell and dry out.

This leads to very painful and life-threatening vulval and uterine infections in the ewe, and can lead to serious physical damage to the canal or womb itself.

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Now, with the lambs out, we must dip the navel and ensure adequate colostrum at the earliest convenience. Before you turn from the ewe, always satisfy yourself that there are no more lambs inside her.

The story I was told when I was starting out was: "When you have the ninth lamb out of the ewe, never forget to go back in and check for the tenth."

Scanning cuts down on the surprises, but even in the best of set-ups, it is possible to miscount the number of lambs in each ewe.

Clostridial vaccination of the ewes before lambing means the colostrum will cover for those diseases for the first few weeks of the lamb's life.

If the flock is not adequately covered before lambing, then the clostridial vaccination of the new lambs must begin at a very early age.

Consult your vet as to the best clostridial vaccination programme to suit your own individual enterprise and leave nothing to chance. Remember, the mother's colostrum covers the early weeks only if her programme has been administered correctly and adequately.

And then we come to the nasty scours that may enter the lambing shed despite our best efforts.

We must go back to basics with our footbaths, cleaning-out of sheds, drying out of the floor area, and using copious amounts of clean, dry straw.

Ropes and lambing equipment, feeding tubes and lamb bottles, buckets and feeding troughs are all put under the spotlight to receive a thorough cleaning and disinfection before and during a scour outbreak. We then have to consider moving the lambing area to a new shed or different area, and lamb the middle section of the flock away from the disease-threatened early-lambing area.

On busy lambing farms that use indoor lambing and fostering areas, it is always prudent to have a second and even third lambing area as the season unfolds. This allows the shepherd to move away from a shed where diseases such as E-coli scour are beginning to build up.

Care of the scouring lamb itself involves huge amounts of heat and electrolytes, and a well-sheltered pen to help the lamb fight the disease.

Under the direction of your vet and following correct diagnosis of the disease, you may have to resort to antibiotics. Let us be very clear in our minds that the use of antibiotics brings with it many of its own problems and must never be our primary course of action.

These medicines, though the marvel of the 20th century, are causing their own consternation now. Resistance to antibiotics is the single biggest concern in human medicine on a worldwide scale, and their use in food-producing animals is under the microscope at European and worldwide levels.

The time will come when we won't have many of them, so use them only under focused veterinary advice, and as a last line of defence.

Peadar O Scanaill is a veterinary practitioner in Ashbourne, Co Meath, and is a member of the food animal group Veterinary Ireland. Email:

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