Ensuring newly purchased flock replacements are held in quarantine for at least four weeks must become standard management practice for all sheep producers.
North Yorkshire sheep veterinary consultant Paul Roger says quarantining flock replacements is “absolutely essential”.
He says: “There are so many diseases out there that it is vital not only to keep bought-in sheep away from all other sheep on the farm, but it’s equally important to monitor them carefully and to make absolutely sure you know what you’re looking for in terms of any health issues that may erupt during the quarantine period.”
A detailed discussion with the farm vet concerning sheep diseases that may be brought on to the farm with newly purchased stock is the first stage of adopting a responsible and effective regime to curb any unforeseen risks.
And when a quarantine period is being introduced – and it must be for at least four and preferably six weeks – it’s important to have first worked out how that can be achieved without impacting on lambing dates.
“Turning tups out with newly bought-in sheep isn’t advisable, despite the fact that it’s common practice for many flocks. But if buying-in replacements is delayed in the hope of buying sheep cheaper later in the season – and that necessitates turning tups out immediately to achieve the desired lambing date – a rethink is urgently needed.
“Any money that is assumed is being saved by delaying the purchase of replacements could well be lost many times over if it means no quarantine period can be implemented and new arrivals have to be turned out with the flock so that lambing isn’t delayed in the spring.
“These are the issues that need to be addressed. While buying sheep is a job for the autumn, it’s important to work dates back from the time next spring’s lambs have to be born. This is so that replacements can be subjected to the necessary quarantine period in order to minimise health risks to the flock in general. Failure to do this in an effort to save a few pounds on the cost of the sheep can backfire,” says Mr Roger.
Vets and sheep advisors recommend all bought-in sheep – unless they are bought privately and the appropriate vaccination documentation is available – must be considered as “untreated”.
Keeping them completely separate from all other sheep is only part of the regime. It’s important to inspect the entire batch of newly arrived sheep every day and to be aware of the symptoms of disease that could erupt and spread into the existing flock several months later.
Leading sheep advisor Lesley Stubbings says this is not a case of scaremongering or being overly pessimistic about disease risk.
“This strict approach to replacements must now become basic management practice for every flock – and that’s even for flocks buying breeding females privately as well as through the ring.
“Just to make the point, sheep scab can remain dormant in a flock for many months and I have seen an outbreak of scab in ewes at lambing time. Believe me seeing newborn lambs with sheep scab isn’t something any sheep producer wants to cope with.”
Mrs Stubbings says the word “quarantine” is not one that farmers feel happy with. “Although it has never been more important to adopt the practice for all bought-in sheep, we know from all the research we do that only a very small minority of people make any attempt to do it.
“It’s the one thing they can do that could make a massive difference to flock health.
“No matter how proficient a person may feel as a buyer of future breeding stock, there’s no way they can tell what health issues those sheep may be carrying – despite the fact that they may have had all sorts of assurances from the seller. This is what makes flocks most vulnerable to health problems.”
Although it’s perceived that quarantining newly bought-in sheep that have been bought privately in some way casts aspersions on the seller, it must still be undertaken as a fundamental part of replacement protocol.
“Even though sheep may be purchased from flocks considered to be of high health status, there are still diseases that can erupt a few weeks after gimmer lambs arrive on the farm – something I believe can be triggered by the stress of moving.”
Mrs Stubbings recommends that even though a buyer has been told his sheep have received a clostridial vaccination, those sheep cannot be guaranteed as fully protected.
“How do you know it’s been done properly? Is it four-in-one or seven-in-one? Have they had both jabs or just one? There so many unknowns that it’s best to assume they are unvaccinated and do them again. It’s the only way to be sure.”
Sheep advisors say newly bought sheep should spend 48 hours on concrete and given hay/straw and water. It gives an opportunity to monitor them closely and check them – and by keeping them off pasture for this length of time means they can be wormed and treated for scab. The high incidence of fluke this season means a specific treatment must be considered for bought-in replacements.
A minimum four-week quarantine period should follow in a situation where they cannot come into contact with any other sheep. They must be carefully checked each day and the job should be undertaken after any existing sheep on the farm have been dealt with, to reduce the risk of potential infection being spread.
Case Study: Steven Wagstaff, Warwickshire
Warwickshire sheep farmer Steven Wagstaff is a regular buyer of North of England Mule gimmer lambs at Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria. He buys strong tupping lambs to put to Charollais rams, but always keeps his replacements in a separate flock for the first year.
“We isolate them when they come home and vaccinate and worm them as routine so that we can guarantee they’ve been done. There are some treatments you can’t give straight away, so running them as a separate flock for the first year gives us the time to do everything we need before they go into the main flock.
“Not all health issues manifest themselves straight away and we don’t want to bring in health problems from other flocks that aren’t apparent when you buy new sheep,” says Mr Wagstaff.
Case study: Eddie Bullman, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire sheep producer Eddie Bullman is well known for his Suffolk x Mule theaves sold at Bicester Fair each year, but his long-established system relies on buying-in North of England Mule gimmer lambs from sales in the north each autumn.
In the coming weeks he’ll be looking for up to 2,000 Mule gimmer lambs – replacements for his own flock as well as buying for other producers – and says there are two important rules he adheres to.
“Even though I buy through the ring I always buy from someone I know and when I get lambs home I leave them alone and just let them be. Stress is the biggest threat to these lambs so I always give them plenty of space and peace and quiet to help them settle.”
His newly bought ewe lambs are kept separate from the main flock and are turned out “on to the best bit of ground I can find” and left alone for at least a few days.
“You can make things a lot worse by doing too much to them when they arrive. These lambs have probably had two weeks of being handled, dressed and dipped before the sale and have had to cope with the transport and the sale. I know some people like to get among newly bought sheep as soon as they get them home but it only adds to the stress.
“We always dose lambs but it’s not something we rush at straight away. We buy tupping lambs but the rams won’t go in until bonfire night so they’ll have had five or six weeks to really settle down properly.”