18 January 2002

Health plans help maintain sheep welfare

By Hannah Velten

THE revision of the Sheep Welfare Code in autumn 2001 may have passed unnoticed, but ignoring the recommendation for all flocks to have a written health plan may be unwise.

Although not a statutory requirement, the inclusion of a health plan into routine management is considered to be best practice, says a DEFRA spokesperson.

"It is advisable to make a written flock health plan because its non-presence could be used as supporting evidence that animal welfare has been neglected," he adds.

Pressure is also mounting on producers from some farm assurance schemes which are deliberating whether to include the requirement of a written plan in line with the revised Code of Practice.

"The Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb scheme already requires producers to review their approach to animal health on a regular basis through planning and discussions with the vet. The written plan would encourage producers to think further ahead," says the organisations Philippa Wiltshire.

She believes new staff or relief shepherds would also benefit from having a clear idea of what work was required at certain times of year. However, a written plan would not replace – and does not replace – the legal requirement for keeping a vet medicine/treatment book, she warns.

As a simpler alternative to a written plan bound in a book, the Sheep Health Planner wall-chart has been developed by ex-Intervet consultant Geoff Hooper. The planner has been approved by DEFRA as meeting the requirements of a written flock plan and FABBL is also showing interest in the management tool.

"The planner can be tailored to each farm as it is split into seasons and sticky labels are provided to be attached to the planner, showing the timing of husbandry and preventative treatments specific to the flock."

Mr Hooper believes there is a strong economic reason for continually reviewing whether a flocks current health plan is adequate. "Producers must ask whether treatments are necessary or can the plan be improved to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

"Weaning time or restocking after foot-and-mouth provides the ideal opportunity for a re-think of flock management," he adds.

Farm manager, Ian Wilkinson of Mains of Mause farm in Blairgowie, Angus, has been using two planners for two years. "Initially I thought writing a health plan would be another paperwork hassle, but our assurance scheme required one."

Separate planners are used for the 1000-head hill flock and 2500-head main flock, as they require treatments at different times, says Mr Wilkinson. "I had all routine treatments in my head and it was easy to transfer them to the planners.

"They are hung in the sheep shed lean-to, above the fridge where vaccines are stored. The shepherdess and I now have a clear plan to follow and know when to order up vaccines."

Angus-based president of the Sheep Vet Society, Ian Gill also recommends having a written herd health plan. "After foot-and-mouth, the importance of biosecurity must be taken on board. This includes vaccination and quarantine of bought-in stock.

"According to a recent study about 40% of vaccines are not used correctly, with booster doses often missed.

"A written routine vaccination programme acts as a memory jogger for producers and allows vets to ensure medicines are used correctly and effectively," he says. Planners cost £11.75 each (01664-560746). &#42

Written flock health plans are not the paperwork hassle Ian Wilkinson (left) first thought and vet Ian Gill (right) believes they help ensure medicines and vaccines are used correctly.

&#8226 Recommended as best practice.

&#8226 Act as memory jogger.

&#8226 Highlights inefficiencies.