Keep diseases at bay to ensure the minimum loss of new lambs
Veterinary Ireland held an all- day conference on sheep health and diseases recently in Athlone. The conference was well attended with more than 100 vets from all over the country up-skilling themselves on all things ovine. It is a few years since such an event was held but, judging by the interest and feedback, this sort of conference will be held more frequently in the future.
One of the talks on lamb diseases was given by Prof Michael Doherty of UCD Veterinary College -- and was very interesting.
Prof Doherty spoke about lambs born with, or quickly developing, nervous signs. These include young lambs going blind or staggering around the pen in an unusual manner. Sometimes the signs are simply a lamb in poor condition and not interested in its environment. Others are more dramatic, with the head tilted to one side or even held backwards in an exaggerated upright position.
We group all of these under the heading of neurological diseases. Some of the diseases we are quite familiar with, such as meningitis caused by E-coli or Salmonella bacteria. E-coli will strike the vulnerable lamb at birth or in the first few days of life. It is an environmental disease in that it is picked up from the bedding or the walls of the lambing area or through the lamb's navel. It can be an enormous problem with indoor lambing in particular and will cause unsustainable losses across the entire enterprise.
Remember that E-coli will affect many different species and can be a zoonosis, a disease of animals that can spread to humans. With that in mind, we should observe strict hygiene with a plentiful supply of disinfection and hot and cold water for washing.
When E-coli strikes, it causes the disease known as watery mouth. It also causes scour, navel ill and often spreads to other organs in the body. These include the joints and the brain.
With E-coli in the joints, we see lame lambs with swollen joints, stiff backs and, in general, ill health.
When bacteria invade the brain, they cause meningitis with severe headaches for the poor lamb. Meningitis also leads to nervous signs such as convulsions, staggering and head-pressing. It is usually fatal.