5 April 2002

Timber shavings help hygiene and eliminate disease

By Wendy OwenNorth-east correspondent

USING pre-packed wood shavings to bed up lambing pens has virtually eliminated E coli scours and reduced the labour required on a Berwickshire farm.

James Dobie, of Abbey St Bathans, Duns, says his units buildings are turned into a lamb factory for five-weeks each spring when about 3300 Mule and Suffolk x Mule ewes are lambed indoors.

Last year, he bought in softwood timber shavings for the lambing pens, in an attempt to improve hygiene. They have made a tremendous difference and proved cost-effective.

"It used to take someone several hours to fully muck out and disinfect pens every day and lambs were still succumbing to a persistent scour bug.

"Although most lambs recovered from the disease, it weakened them and caused a growth check. I resorted to vaccinating every lamb with an antibiotic as soon as it was born, although it wasnt something I liked doing."

Producers with smaller flocks often get away with using deep litter systems and spreading disinfectant prills on the bedding regularly, says Mr Dobie.

But having a large flock with a prolonged lambing period inevitably means that newly-born lambs are challenged by disease.

Since he started using the pinewood shavings, which are made by the Northumberland-based company Bedmax, he no longer needs to dose any lambs for E coli.

And it only takes a short time to apply a fresh sprinkling of shavings to deep litter beds. Ewes and lambs stay in the pens for about 24 hours.

"I find it best to use a generous quantity to start with and then top up with a fairly modest amount," says Mr Dobie. "Beds stay very dry, which I think is one of the reasons the disease level has dropped so sharply. E coli bacteria thrive in moist conditions.

"Straw does not really absorb water readily, it merely provides a bedding layer. The pine in shavings is also said to have disinfectant properties, which I am sure is helping."

Any attempt to make a cost comparison between straw and shavings is difficult because the 627ha (1550-acre) farm used home-produced straw. But costing it at £30/t would mean that £450 worth was used during lambing in 2000.

At £3.50-3.70 for each 20kg bale, shavings cost roughly £850/year. However, medication is no longer needed, which used to cost about 25p/lamb and took up valuable time to administer.

And the deep litter system has also saved at least 20-30 hours work each week. &#42

PINEWOODSHAVINGS

&#8226 Beds stay dry.

&#8226 Less E coli scour.

&#8226 Saves labour.