28 August 1998

Flock plans are good for the sheep and bottom line

Flock health plans could soon

be a legal requirement, but

they can help save both time

and money. Sheep consultant

Lesley Stubbings explains

IN the wake of BSE, one of the big challenges for the meat industry – sheep included – is the need to work towards ensuring consumer confidence in our product.

This is complex and encompasses a lot of issues including safety, animal welfare, traceability, consistency, eating and keeping quality and value for money. In the early 1990s when the first farm assurance schemes were launched, there was understandable reluctance among sheep producers to sign up. But after a slow start, a significant and rapidly increasing proportion of flocks are being accredited.

The second challenge we face is that of higher economic pressures and the drive to control costs of production. There are two ways to achieve this: Cut costs, and increase output to spread costs.

Most flocks will find a balance between the two is their best option. But when costs are considered, labour is the largest single cost a ewe, and there is now even greater pressure to spread labour costs over more ewes.

Flock health plans contribute to both of these challenges. In the past most flocks have had plans, but these have often just been in someones head rather than formalising them and getting them down on paper – a health plan.

Having a flock health plan on paper means it can be checked, approved and audited easily for farm assurance schemes. With consumer concern over drug use and management practices, what better way of showing what we do?

Having been involved in producing a number of flock health plans, it is clear the process acts as a useful way of making sure the most effective and efficient management practices are adopted. Time, effort and money can be saved. Results will improve, too.

A well thought out plan is particularly helpful in a big flock where there is no room for fire-brigade measures and problems must be prevented. Tight routines for vaccinations, treatment of replacements to prevent scab or anthelmintic resistance, and a good flock policy for foot care, are all likely to be most effective if properly planned.

So what does a flock health plan consist of? A plan is not difficult to produce in most cases. There is no great cause for concern if a logical approach is taken; it is a case of writing down what is done to the flock and when. As soon as you start this process it is amazing how the omissions and clashes become apparent.

A good plan will look at the sheep year, month by month, and show management and preventative health measures required.

For example, in the run-up to lambing, the plan should detail when vaccinations are due, worming dates and products to be used, a note to check condition score and the plan for feeding rates. It will also look at different classes of stock in the flock, producing a plan for rams and ewe lambs as well as the main lambing flock, as these are the most frequently forgotten and where omissions are made. Key elements of a health plan should include:

lPreventative health programme – matched to flock problems and minimising any risk. A strategy for controlling lameness or parasites will look, for example, at vaccination timing.

lNutrition – balancing requirements at critical times and using body condition to monitor these needs. Prompting analysis and when to start feeding.

lSelection, culling and quarantine of breeding stock – flocks are most vulnerable to disease when they bring in new stock. Treatment routine for new stock should be decided and rigorously carried out.

lPreparation for and routines during lambing – look at mothering up, lactation, prevention of staggers, castration and tailing policy to ensure these are carried out correctly and at the right time.

lGrazing and grassland policy – Allocate grazing, monitor stocking rates and fertiliser use to help make best use of grass.

lRecords required – ensuring records of, for instance, barren ewes and neonatal lamb losses are kept.

Flock health plans will soon be a fact of life. In new welfare codes, under consultation, it is considered essential that each flock should have a plan. If we react to this positively, we can reap benefits from with both improved use of inputs and labour and improved consumer confidence. &#42

Health plans can help prevent problems occurring and reduce the need for fire-brigade tactics when disease hits at critical times.

Preparing a flock health plan is useful for ensuring the most effective and efficient management practices are adopted, says Lesley Stubbings.

FLOCKHEALTHPLAN

&#8226 Formal plan for management.

&#8226 Highlights clashes or concerns.

&#8226 Can save time and money.