HEALTH PLAN KEEPS A CHECK ON VET & MED
Planning flock health care will identify concerns on farm, and is likely to be for more cost-effective.
Suzie Horne reports
A PLANNED approach to sheep health will result in far more cost-effective expenditure on veterinary and medicine items.
Gross margins in the recently released 1996 Sheep Yearbook from the Meat and Livestock Commission show only a small gap between top third and bottom third in vet and med expenses a ewe in lowland flocks (see table).
Top third producers spend more a ewe on this element of variable costs, but because they rear more lambs, expenditure on a per-lamb reared basis is lower than that of the bottom third.
Signet farm business consultant Peter Fairbank highlights a planned, preventive flock health care programme as one of the elements separating the top third and bottom third performers.
"A preventive health care programme is more cost effective. It should be planned with your vet once a year. He will then know the background picture to the health status of the flock and wont be coming in blind.
"Once you know what problems you have to start with, then you can do a cost benefit analysis on all the vaccines available to see what it is worthwhile using in your situation."
Oxfordshire-based Mr Fairbank maintains that many flock masters are not health conscious enough, falling down on day-to-day preventive care such as the isolation and treatment of infected stock, especially in the case of bought in sheep where foot rot, scab and abortion might be brought in to clean flocks.
"This is significant whether it is one ram or 200 ewe replacements that are brought in. With regard to this, people should also consider operating a closed flock policy or buying sheep out of the premium health scheme which monitors flocks for abortion," says Mr Fairbank.
"Also, if you havent got wormer resistance, theres no point bringing it onto the farm. Sheep which are brought onto the farm should be double dosed with different products before turnout with the rest of the flock to reduce risks," he advises.
"If there is a foot problem, affected animals should be isolated until it is sorted out. It comes back to a planned approach, because in the long run it will save you money and time."
Failure to adopt a planned approach can mean having to treat a much higher proportion of the flock than just the bought-in animals. "Lame sheep are one of the major welfare issues – the labour saving potential of eradicating foot rot is phenomenal."
Attention to detail and timely treatments are essential, says Mr Fairbank. Effective recording of medicines used is a legal requirement and good housekeeping such as maintaining a tidy medicine store will help in this. All too often, out of date vaccines or inappropriate storage – such as on the top of the Land Rover dashboard – means money spent on expensive treatments will be wasted.
As well as an annual meeting with the vet to plan the health programme, the lockable medicine cupboard should be regularly reviewed to ensure that all vaccines are still within date, that refrigerated storage is being used where appropriate and that all legal requirements such as COSH* are being met.
Other areas which give rise to concern in Mr Fairbanks opinion include the apparent increasing trend to cut out clostridial vaccines. "People think that because they have not had this problem for a few years, they can afford to take the risk of cutting it out. It is crazy to cut this cost – it could flare up at any time in a major way."
Worming strategy should be examined too. "In some cases there is nothing for it but to dose every three weeks. But we should be moving away from that scenario if possible, using dosage, timing and grazing management including faecal egg counts, to determine worming policy," he says.
In contrast to the other systems costed in the yearbook, early lambing flocks show the top third spending less than the bottom third performers on vet and med.
Mr Fairbank suggests that this may be attributable to top third flocks being more intensive than those in the bottom third category, having a higher stocking rate, and perhaps getting lambs away earlier. *
• Preventative care best.
• Consider closed flock.
• Take care in store and use of medicines.
Flock vet and med spend by system
127 lowland spring lambing flocks selling most of their lambs off grass in summer and autumn 1996:
£ a ewe4.894.905.07
% of variablecosts15.316.818.3
£ a lambreared3.283.203.17
45 early lambing flocks, 1996:
£ a ewe4.584.524.18
% of variablecosts11.310.89.3
£ a lambreared22.214.171.124
121 upland spring lambing flocks selling most of their lambs off grass in summer and autumn 1996:
£ a ewe4.294.424.72
% of variablecosts17.918.419.7
£ a lamb
Source: MLC 1997 Sheep Yearbook.
Contents of the lockable medicine cupboard should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are still within date. Refrigerated storage should be used where appropriate, says Signet consultant Peter Fairbank.