11 April 1997

Toxoplasmosis and foot rot spoils lambing start

The birth of eight putrefied lambs and the subsequent confirmation of toxoplasmosis has marred what began as an excellent lambing season. Robert Davies reports

MARGARET Dalton is mystified and very worried by results from dead lambs sent for veterinary tests.

With mortality running at less than half last years level, she was celebrating the fact that vaccination had brought the devastating 1995 enzootic abortion flare under control.

When the first of the rotten lambs arrived she did not give toxoplasmosis a thought. The disease has never been a problem on the farm, and she has always refused to keep cats that might carry it.

"I can only assume that contamination has come from cats that were in contact with bought-in feed or straw," Mrs Dalton says. "We hope that the problem is limited to a few sheep that came in contact with it. It is too late to do anything about it this spring, but when lambing is over and we know the extent of the disease we will take veterinary advice about vaccination.

"There has also been an unusually large number of prolapses, and we have a continuing serious foot rot problem, so are spending a lot on long-acting teramycin injections. I believe that feet problems are now so severe that we will have to vaccinate."

Most of the ewes are throwing fit lambs and are milking well.

Good weather allowed single bearing ewes to stay outside until point of lambing. They came in so fit and free of problems that Mrs Dalton is planning to do the same with the 50 ewe lambs, or even lamb them outside. Conditions are also ideal for the fast turn-out of ewes and lambs.

Ewes suckling single lambs are run in groups of 50, and those with twins in 25s. Experience suggests that these are the best sized mobs for easy management.

The stress of lambing was aggravated by processing the 170 table birds reared for the Easter trade. There has not been time to work out the figures, but the decision to drop the enterprise has already been taken.

The cattle are doing well and the 1996-born calves have been weaned. Younger calves are exceptionally fit, thanks in part to the availability of excellent third-cut big bale silage fed in the creep.

During a recent visit by Margaret Griffiths, the partners ADAS consultant, the performance of the suckler herd during the year ending Mar 19 was analysed and compared with the previous 12 months. Surprisingly, gross output was up, in spite of the BSE crisis.

"The calculation is rough, and does not take inputs into account. But it indicates that extra government aid has allowed us to increase total income from the herd slightly," says Mrs Dalton.

Changes in the ratio of cattle to sheep to maximise extensification payments increased the number of stores sold during the period from 69 to 86. On average, these realised £406, or £74 a head less than the previous year. Despite this, income was £1814 higher at £34,889, due to the extra numbers sold.

Five culls were also sold for an average of £383 a head, compared with 10 that averaged £386 the previous year.

In total, enterprise income from sales was £36,805, or £129 up. But the beef special premium claimed on 59 cattle was £124.12 a head, and there was a top-up of £19.70 a head. In the previous year a premium of just £111.70 a head was claimed on 42 cattle. The £23.13 top-up on suckler cow premium, and the £55 a head beef marketing payment scheme grant on four cattle also had a significant impact.

"It appears that our final costings will show that, for once, the government got its emergency support for suckler herds just about right, though I would prefer to get the income from the market place. I feel sorry for finishers of bought in stores who have really borne the brunt of the BSE crisis."

The last month has been a busy one for John Daltons contracting business. A series of mechanical breakdowns have coincided with heavy pressure to move sewage sludge.

"I wrongly believed I could handle maintenance myself and did not schedule it properly," Mr Dalton admits. "I have now taken on a mechanic, who can double as a driver. I now realise that I need to learn new management skills following expansion of the contracting side."

Sludge has been injected recently into 10ha (25 acres) of grazing land at Gelli Garneddau, and a 27:10:0 early bite compound fertiliser applied to 22ha (55 acres) of silage land that will first be grazed by ewes and lambs and then refertilised with a 20:8:12 compound before closing off. Another 20ha (50 acres) of slightly colder and later grassland has been shut off and will be dressed with a 20:10:10 compound.n

Suckler beef have achieved a higher gross output, despite the BSE crisis.

It appears government got its compensation package just about right, says Margaret Dalton.

Part-time assistant, Carol Milkoy, injects a lamb with colostrum.


&#8226 A 125ha (310-acre) less favoured area beef and sheep unit in mid-Wales farmed by Margaret Dalton and her son John, who also operates contracting services.

&#8226 Managed in association with an ADAS full-farm advisory package.

&#8226 Quota for 435 ewes. Scotch Mules are put to Rouge tups and the female progeny used to produce Texel sired prime lambs.

&#8226 Quota for 85 sucklers, Hereford x Friesians, Welsh Blacks and Longhorn x Welsh Blacks, used to breed Charolais cross stores.

&#8226 Small poultry enterprise.

&#8226 One full-time stockman, and variable number of full and part-time contracting staff.