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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Observations can help ‘Make more from Sheep’

Posted by Bestprac on Jun 06 2013

By Liz Guerin
There is the old adage that ‘where you have live animals, you are going to have dead ones too’.

But the key messages, from the recent Karoonda Veterinary and Animal Health Day, were about keeping it in proportion and using your powers of observation to understand, not only, why you might be losing the odd sheep, but also around knowing and responding to risk.

An initiative of the Making More from Sheep program group co-ordinator, John Squires, said that the day came about following producer requests for an animal health refresher day.

“Producers wanted to discuss specific animal health issues they had encountered on their properties,” Mr Squires said. “Hence, on the day, producers’ questions on animal health issues were tabled and answered.”

Presenters on the day included State Biosecurity SA staff, Amelia Bartlett and Dr Jeremy Rogers of Murray Bridge, who provided information on the enhanced abattoir disease surveillance program, lice surveillance findings and Ovine Johne’s management protocols.

Keen observers: Producers at the Karoonda Veterinary and Animal Health Day watching, with interest, the autopsy demonstration.Dr Colin Trengove, Lecturer in Production Animal Health at the School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Adelaide, was the major presenter on the day. He discussed issues including worm control options, vaccinations for common sheep diseases, nutrition and disease management. An autopsy was conducted to demonstrate the signs that contribute to on-farm sheep deaths, including heliotrope and caltrop poisoning, pregnancy toxaemia, and gastro-intestinal worm related issues.

Dr Trengrove said that one of his philosophies is that you can only manage what you can measure – and in current farming there are so many more opportunities to measure all aspects of what you are doing.

“There are numerous monitoring tools out there that can help you make better and more profitable decisions about what you are doing,” he said. “It is about being observant and having a close look at what is going on.”

He said simple measures, like conducting faecal egg counts to determine whether there is a worm problem, can mean that you are far more strategic with your decision making.

“Spending $30 on a few egg counts, to find out that you don’t need to be drenching, is far more economical than spending a few hundred dollars on drench that may have been totally unnecessary.” 

One of the day’s aspects, that many attendees found fascinating, was the autopsy of a sheep and, whilst it is difficult to get information from post mortems unless you are doing them often, Dr Trengrove said that if animals are dying it is a gross waste of opportunity not to see if there is anything obvious inside.

“The difficulty is knowing what normal is, in order to recognise abnormal,” he said. “But even in situations where access to veterinary services may not be readily available, rather than just accepting that they have dead stock, producers can take photos, with their phone, of anything they think might be abnormal and send it off to their vet or advisor, to see if they can shed some light on what might be going on.”

But it is not only dead and dying stock that tells the story – which is something that Dr Trengrove emphasises.

“Often there are a whole host of issues that go into a diagnosis, and often the people closest to the issue, are the ones who are most blind to it,” he said. “The environment in which they are running also needs to be considered, such as how much feed is in the paddocks and their grazing history, what the fences and water quality are like and  vaccination and drench history.”

Building on their observations of their own stock, producers should also be mindful of biosecurity issues.

“When buying stock many producers are only looking at price and not thinking about the potential issues they may also be buying, and the impact such problems may have on their bottom line,” Dr Trengrove said. “Producers need to consider where stock have come from and their history and then assess the risk of them bringing in a problem which can compromise the health of the rest of your sheep.”

He said that biosecurity measures are changing. The introduction of the National Sheep Health Statement will require every sales transaction to have a sheep health statement and asks about 6 of the common diseases we encounter.

“In South Australia, it has been required for some time, but now it will be a National requirement,” Dr Trengrove said. “It is another method of trying to maintain biosecurity for all sheep producers – but is not a replacement for diligence around what stock are allowed onto your land – whether they be strays, purchases or adjustments.”

Last changed: Jun 07 2013

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