How to manage campylobacter in sheep

Independent sheep vet Paul Roger explains how farmers can detect campylobacter in their sheep correctly and how to tackle it once confirmed.

How widespread is campylobacter?

Campylobacter is a bacterial infection and is the third most common cause of abortion in ewes, after toxoplasmosis and chlamydial infections.

 What are the symptoms?

There are little or no symptoms, making it hard to identify. But abortion in late pregnancy is the main sign.

Some lambs are carried to full term but are born weak and die soon after. Farmers can also look out for stomach upsets, sheep failing to eat, weight loss and reduced motion.

 How can farmers be sure it’s campylobacter?

It is important that abortions are investigated. Knowing the cause allows farmers to work alongside their vet to protect the rest of the flock. It is critically important to involve the farm vet to implement preventative measures.

See also: How a Somerset farmer has lowered abortion losses 

How does the disease spread?

Stock will pick it up through ingestion of infected material or contact with wildlife or carrier sheep.

Can campylobacter affect humans?

Yes, infections can be spread to humans and from humans back to sheep, so it is important to exercise good hygiene. Always wash hands and remove any clothing that has come into contact with aborted lambs before entering the house.

How do you reduce the disease?

Managing biosecurity and hygiene are key. The infection can be passed on by carrier sheep, so keep aborted ewes away from pregnant sheep.

 How do you reduce the risk when sheep are outside?

If sheep are fed outside cover feed troughs and move them around regularly to avoid contamination by birds. Farmers should also try to keep dogs, poultry and other livestock away from pregnant ewes.

 Is it possible to vaccinate sheep against the disease?

Vaccines are not currently available in the UK.

 How can the flock be protected without vaccination?

Ewes exposed to the bacteria develop a resistance to it. Mixing aborted ewes with non-pregnant replacements can help to develop a limited immunity within the flock.