Vet Viewpoint: Sheep lameness, fly control and suckler calves

Our experts examine how to pinpoint the best dairy animals and the importance of culling for lameness in breeding ewes.

And with summer and autumn suckled calf sales fast-approaching, a vet offers tips on how to add value to calves.

Finally, farmers are reminded about the importance of good fly control measures.

See also: Vet Viewpoint: Ticks, pneumonia and the value of FECs

Ben Barber

Synergy Farm Health, Evershot, Dorset

Ben Barber

When deciding on the best animals to produce the next generation of replacement heifers, production and health records are often a good place to start.

However, assuming we’re making genetic progress in the right direction by using bulls with improved traits and selecting our preferred dams, the superior animals in our herd will, on average, be those that are the youngest.

One problem with young animals though is the lack of production data to base breeding decisions on.

Historically, parent averages have been used to decide a heifer’s future potential and recently, genomic testing of heifers has also become commercially available on farm.

This provides information often more than twice as reliable as using parent averages.

I would urge all farmers to analyse where their herd replacements are coming from and to consider their heifers in this decision – regardless of the tools used to rank them.

Lee-Anne Oliver

Scott Mitchell Associates, Hexham, Northumberland


The summer and autumn suckler sales are fast approaching, so now is the time to think about ways of adding value to the calves for sale.

BVD-negative cattle are likely to receive a premium, with the BVD Free campaign in full force.

If calves are tissue tagged at birth, then make sure buyers are aware.

Equally, if the herd is a Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) member and the herd is BVD accredited-free, make sure everyone knows.

Failing that, cattle for sale can be individually tested for BVD virus, again adding significant value.

Pneumonia vaccination pre-sale is another option. This adds value to calves as they are less likely to succumb to pneumonia at what is a stressful time; weaning, transportation and mixing with other cattle. Often two doses are required, so pre-planning is essential.

Nick Pile

Cliffe Farm Vets, Lewes, East Sussex


Do you have high levels of lameness and foot rot in your flock? If your average yearly prevalence of lameness is over 10% of your flock, it is likely that implementation of the Five-Point Plan will be cost-effective.

Lameness costs about £10 a ewe mated in terms of direct and indirect costs associated with treatment, control and production losses.

On average, lambs from lame ewes are 20% more likely to be sold as stores rather than finished. The time to implement the plan is at weaning.

Start by drafting repeat offenders and ewes with misshapen feet for culling.

Studies have proved that with adherence to the plan, lameness due to foot-rot can be reduced to below 2% within two years. Contact your vet to get help in trying to better control this frustrating condition.

Ian Bates

Fenwold Vets, Spilsby, Lincolnshire


We’ve seen a number of summer mastitis and New Forest eye cases (NFE) lately.

Most of the grazing here is very open and not particularly inviting to flies, but where cattle are grazed in parkland and sheltered fields, fly control is important to prevent these diseases.

Most products only last a few weeks, so remember to repeat treatment throughout the grazing period.

We have seen a few cases of fly strike in sheep and it is amazing how these lesions can remain hidden only to be revealed at shearing – it is also amazing how quickly sheep can drop dead from this problem, (with eggs hatching in 12 hours in optimum conditions).

Shearing lambs’ tails and appropriate use of preventive treatments such as insect growth regulators is important.

Most of these will also need repeating and some have quite hefty withdrawal periods.