Protect your flock by developing an accurate parasite programme
Each year, the Department of Agriculture produces an extensive report on all animal diseases found in the samples sent to the regional veterinary laboratories around the country. This year's report was sent to all vets in practice and makes for some very interesting reading indeed.
First and foremost, in recent years, the report is an all-island report involving all 32 counties. It takes all the information from Stormont and Omagh laboratories as well as the seven laboratories run by the Department of Agriculture across the rest of the island. That is because diseases do not recognise land borders.
Thankfully, diseases do respect island borders and we are blessed in that respect, having a water boundary between ourselves and the landmass that is Eurasia. We must covet that sea border and only move livestock onto our island once the livestock has passed through rigorous quarantine testing for any disease that may wish to get a foothold on Irish farms.
Back to the report itself, and it is a very accurate read on sheep diseases in particular. For instance, when it comes to mortality, the biggest single killer on Irish farms still remains grassland parasites. That includes both intestinal worms and liver fluke, and the picture is very similar north and south of the border.
Anywhere up to 25pc of sheep deaths on Irish farms is due to worm or fluke infestation. This is despite all the different wormers available throughout the country and the extensive knowledge we all have on how prevalent worms and fluke are in this country.
Several problems in sheep husbandry may affect this figure. Firstly, we all know that the early grass worms that cause extensive damage in grazing lambs can creep up very quickly after turnout. Nematodirus is a specific parasitic infestation that will cause farm deaths in young lambs before any faecal sample will begin to show evidence of parasites. Within a couple of weeks after turnout, the lambs may show one or two cases of ill-thrift before a sudden explosion of parasitic problems occurs. This can lead to increased sheep mortality despite very close observation of the flock.
Next on the list is anthelmintec resistance. It is known that resistance to many common wormers on sale in this country is a growing problem. The disease surveillance report tells us that some evidence emerged from a 2005 questionnaire in Northern Ireland, suggesting significant levels of resistance to Benzimadoles, Levamisole and the lactones group of wormers. The Department of Agriculture is conducting its own study to give an accurate read on resistance to common wormers all around the island. To help in this, we need to do our own bit of research.
We should all keep good records of the dose we use and the amounts given to the different batches. Most importantly, follow up with faecal samples sent via your own vet to the regional veterinary laboratory. This is to test if the wormer has worked in the first place and also to focus the correct worming interval to avoid overuse or underuse of our products. The regional veterinary laboratory is often forgotten about, but it is by far the single biggest asset our Government supplies to sheep farmers in their battle against diseases. It costs money to keep them there but without the regional labs, we would never get an accurate up-to-date read of on-farm sheep diseases.