Vet urges farmers to 'take control' of flock health and welfare

Rhona Anderson of Forth Valley Vets says farmers should focus on health and welfare improvements
Rhona Anderson of Forth Valley Vets says farmers should focus on health and welfare improvements

Farmers are being encouraged to use winter to 'take control' of flock planning, health and welfare, topics that will become 'more important' in the coming months.

This is according to Rhona Anderson of Forth Valley Vets in the Central Belt of Scotland, who says that even though the Brexit deal gives some stability for farmers, there is still uncertainty.

She says it is important for farmers to remember that they are still in control of flock planning, health and welfare.

“As the pandemic turns another corner and the country undertakes a national vaccination campaign, health planning has never been such main news," she adds.

"With the hard work ahead in the spring, the winter months are a great time to take a pause, consider the previous year and focus on improvements that can be made."

Rhona notes that, for many vets, sheep are only seen from March to May for ‘fire-fighting’ medicine, but recently farmers are involving them more in active flock health planning and disease prevention.

“A health plan is usually seen as a document created by your vet that goes in a drawer to gather dust, but it really does serve a purpose as a working document all year round.

"By considering what diseases and challenges are present on your farm and using your vets’ recommendations, we aim to prepare you for any and all eventualities,” she says.

In recent years, the veterinary industry has been actively trying to encourage sheep farmers to keep good records in order to monitor performance.

“Performance records are a key component of the plan. Lamb losses are both frustrating and financially detrimental.

"With good record keeping you can determine when your most significant losses occurred; scanning to lambing, during lambing time, lambing to weaning, or finishing lambs.

"This allows a more structured plan to help you reduce these losses.”

Rhona advises that flock health planning should be completed with a veterinary surgeon and tailored to farms individually.

“A health plan wall-calendar allows you to see month by month what diseases to be on the lookout for, what planned treatments or medications are due, and what management practices should be completed each month,” adds Rhona.

Following the trend in cattle, prevention and screening for disease has also become more popular in the sheep industry.

Vast improvements have been made in the screening for diseases such as Jaagsietke (Ovine Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma), a contagious fatal lung condition that can be diagnosed via ultrasound scanning, and psoroptic mange (sheep scab).

A blood test to screen for sheep scab has become available in the last two years, allowing for more targeted parasite control in previously undiagnosed flocks.

Rhona says: “Reducing antibiotic usage is not only important in improving profit margins and reducing financial losses but is paramount in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

"Many of the diseases in sheep that provoke a high usage of antimicrobials, such as foot rot and joint ill, are preventable.

"Despite popular belief, this does not always mean expensive vaccinations programmes, and in fact many vets promote improving farm management practices before adding in a vaccine programme to ensure optimum results.

"Engage with your vet on these matters and you may be pleasantly surprised what you can improve without spending a fortune.”