Analyse lamb losses now

Sheep producers should be looking at farm records and analysing the lambing losses that occurred within their flocks this season, according to advice from EBLEX.

Data from a lambing project carried out in Wales, which took place before flocks were affected by Schmallenberg, suggested losses within flocks ranged from 10-25% between scanning ewes and the sale of their lambs. Generally, most losses occur during pregnancy or in the first week of life.

Comparing scanning, lambing and rearing percentages between years, and with national benchmarks, will highlight where problems occur and indicate where action is needed, says EBLEX BRP project co-ordinator, Katie Brian.

“Farmers are often surprised to find out how many lambs they do lose. This is partly because almost a third of lamb losses are ‘invisible’, as they occur between scanning and lambing,” she says.

Infectious abortions continue to account for a significant percentage of losses on lowland farms, with three types responsible for 86% of all sheep abortions. Enzootic abortion (EAE) is responsible for 52% of abortions and is thought to cost the industry £23.8m a year.

Toxoplasmosis is responsible for 25% of infectious abortions and campylobacter 9%. Producers should aim to reduce abortions to less than 2%, and the barren rate to less than 5%. It’s important to establish a health plan with your vet, which may include a vaccination programme.

Ms Brian says if you suspect ewes have aborted this year, but did not submit the aborted lamb and placenta for analysis, speak to your vet to get a group of ewes blood tested (the cost of these tests is often subsidised).

“If you have positive results for enzootic abortion or toxoplasmosis, the ewes can be vaccinated to prevent losses occurring next year. Vaccinations need to be done at least four weeks before mating in order to be effective.

Remember also that some losses would never have been seen as lambs, especially if you do not scan, as they could have been reabsorbed in early or mid-pregnancy,” she adds.

The Schmallenberg virus will also have contributed to lamb losses in many flocks this season. Ms Brian suggests farmers speak to their vet about the risk of Schmallenberg and whether they should vaccinate.

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