A new campaign has been launched to raise awareness of a significant burden to the UK sheep flock, Enzootic Abortion of Ewes (EAE).
The disease was responsible for over 35% of all abortion diagnoses between 2012-18 and 47% of all 2019 laboratory submissions.
A new online campaign, launched by Ceva Animal Health, aims to raise its awareness amongst farmers.
'Plan, Prevent and Protect' and vaccination is considered best practice for control of the disease rather than the blanket use of antibiotics, according to the company.
Vaccination will give better disease control whilst ensuring responsible use of antibiotics. RUMA has identified the use of antibiotics in late lambing as a hot spot for routine use.
Ceva said it's important to be aware that latent infection occurs if sheep are infected after 100 days of pregnancy, meaning these ewes will not abort in this season but will in the following season.
Dr Fiona Lovatt, who leads the cross-industry Sheep Antibiotic Guardian Group, said: “Despite EAE being responsible for over 35% of all abortion diagnoses, only one million of the 3.5 million replacement ewes in the national flock each year are vaccinated against EAE.
“Any sheep farmer that either buys in ewes for replacements or has close neighbours that also lamb sheep, risks bringing enzootic abortion into their flock.
“Once the disease infects an unvaccinated flock, some ewes are ‘programmed’ to abort at their next lambing, leaving no choice but to put remedial measures in place – usually including both vaccination and antibiotic treatment,” she said.
This means EAE is a disease that, once in a flock, carries high costs both financially and emotionally in terms of lamb losses and farmer stress.
“Hence it is important that flocks receive appropriate vaccination at least four weeks before ewes go to the ram and avoid the inappropriate use of antibiotics closer to lambing,” said Dr Lovatt.
She added that a single dose of EAE vaccine costs about £2.40 and is an investment that effectively lasts the ewe for her lifetime in the flock, protecting against losses.
In contrast, abortion or stillbirth – which accounts for around a quarter of all lamb losses each year – costs over £25 for every single lost lamb.
“Every injection of antibiotics also costs an additional £1,” said Dr Lovatt, “But is just a ‘sticking plaster’ with short-lasting effectiveness in terms of disease control but long-lasting damage in terms of mounting resistance.”