COCCIDIOSIS CAN devastate a lamb crop, resulting in large numbers of sudden deaths, as one Shropshire producer found to his cost last year. But it’s not just lost lambs that reduce flock income, many more suffer sub-clinical infection, fail to thrive and take longer to finish.

John Parry found out these hard facts first hand last spring, having previously prevented coccidiosis by feeding a medicated ewe feed.

“Last year I tried a different feed supplier and they were unable to supply feed with an anti-coccidiostat in. Having always fed it I wondered how lambs would fare without it. I like to keep challenging flock costs and wondered whether this was one that could be cut,” he explains.

“Everything was fine until mid-May when we suddenly lost 17 lambs in the space of a few days. It was quickly identified as coccidiosis, so all lambs in affected groups were treated with an anti-coccidiostat drench. This cleared up the problem and lambs seemed fine after that.”

Due to the way Mr Parry manages his flock, with all ewes grouped by age and grazed in relatively small bunches, he only had to treat a proportion of the flock. “Several groups were unaffected, so this saved some money. Had they been in larger groups I may have had to treat the whole flock,” he says.

Sub-clinical Infection

While losing 17 lambs from a flock of 575 ewes may seem expensive enough, Mr Parry says sub-clinical infection in other lambs has cost almost as much. “There are about 160 more lambs still to finish than at this time last year, they’re about a month to six weeks later finishing than last year.

“While lambs are grazing stubble turnips on our own arable unit, they’re still costing about 20-25p a week in feed costs alone and there is less feed available for the remaining lambs,” he reckons.

“Added to this is the detrimental effect on the businesses cashflow. This is an expensive time of year, with ewe feeds to be bought and other supplies needed.”

This year Mr Parry is returning to his previous feed supplier and will be including an anti-coccidostat medication in ewe feed from Mar 1. “It’s costing 15-20/t to include the medication, but that will easily be repaid through fewer lamb losses and improved lamb growth.”

While many flockmasters may choose to include the anti-coccidiostat in a creep feed, Mr Parry believes it’s just as good in the ewe feed. “Lambs always eat from the ewe troughs and we try to avoid creep feeding lambs, as I reckon it’s uneconomical. Keeping milk on ewes is a far more efficient way of feeding lambs.

“Had the weather been different last year, we may have avoided coccidiosis and not had the outbreak in lambs. Last spring was good, but then it came wet in late March and April and lambs suffered a bit, this was when we saw the outbreak.

“It may have flared up then because of other stresses, such as a nematodirus infection, but I think it was picked up in the lambing shed,” he explains.

However, while an anti-coccidiostat drench solved the problem for Mr Parry last year, he is not keen on relying on it.

“With many small groups of ewes and lambs, it is difficult and time consuming to gather and drench them all. On top of this, there is the extra stress on the lambs at a critical time in their growth,” he adds.