Developing a plan: Flock plans can increase profitabilityWritten by Gayle Smith
Larry Goelz, who practices veterinarian medicine at Pipestone Veterinary Clinic in Pipestone, Minn., explained how to create a health plan, designed to increase the number of lambs marketed, during the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association annual convention.
Goelz encourages sheep producers to develop a health management strategy based on the premise that it is easier and cheaper to prevent disease than it is to treat or cure it.
“As a veterinarian, our goal is to help our clients market more lambs, because that is the number one driver of profitability. If each producer could increase that number by 10 percent, they could do a lot of things wrong and still make money. Along with that, they need to do all this and keep their feed costs at the same level,” he said.
Goelz told producers the way to shock their veterinarian is to sit down with their family and write up a health plan that everyone in the family can follow. The plan should also allow for changes and modifications, if necessary.
“I think it is important to write it down,” he said. “I have found if it is written down, it is more likely to be followed. Develop standard operating procedures and share your plan with your veterinarian. They may be able to help you institute changes to your health program with no added labor. For instance, deworming the sheep when vaccinations are given, instead of doing this two separate times.”
Health strategy considerations
An effective strategy should include vaccinations for diseases that are present, and vaccinations for diseases that may be introduced. Goelz compares the health strategy to an insurance plan.
The plan should also include prophylactic treatment for diseases that are present. It is also important to set up trigger points to mass medicate animals in case of a widespread outbreak, he said.
The flock health plan should also incorporate bio-security, which Goelz defines from research as “precautions that we take to prevent disease introduction into a population (flock). Bio-security is not happenstance. It is a process where we identify diseases that have the potential to cause financial damage to the flock, determine methods to limit risk of introduction and implement a plan to adhere to those methods.”
“It is important to remember that if you don't control the health of your flock, the health of your flock will control you economically, and through more labor,” he said. “Health is just one component intimately tied to production, nutrition and environment.”
By developing a workable health plan, sheep producers can prevent diseases that have a significant economic impact on their operation, like foot rot, contagious abortions such as Campylobacter and Chlamydia, and parasites. The plan should also cover diseases that are present and need to be controlled, like parasites, clostridium perfringes type C and D, coccidiosis and pneumonia in young, growing lambs.
Producers who purchase new additions to the flock should only source them from reputable flocks, Goelz said, recommending the animals be quarantined for three to four weeks in a dry lot, with no mud present. During this time, he discourages any contact between new additions and the flock.
The veterinarian also recommends inspecting any new animals before co-mingling with the flock and treating new animals with a prophylactic foot bath to prevent foot rot.
The new additions should also be dewormed with a pour-on twice 14 days apart.
“Introducing new sheep into a flock can be a problem if they carry parasites resistant to our dewormers,” Goelz said. “I would encourage producers to practice these on-farm quarantines, especially if they are acquiring sheep from the south or far eastern U.S.”
Goelz also feels it is acceptable to ask visitors to the farm to step through a footbath or wear disposable shoes to prevent disease spread, especially if the visitors are touring other sheep operations. He also discouraged producers from wearing clothes they've worn to the salebarn to take care of their own flocks.
Lastly, he encourages producers to disinfect and clean their trailers that they haul new additions in.
“When you buy sheep, you are not only buying the sheep, but any diseases that flock potentially has,” he explained. “Be wary of a cheap buy at the sale barn. Those sheep all travel down the same alley, and they are exposed to disease at the co-mingling points,” he said.
At the sale barn Goelz also encouraged producers to purchase virgin rams.
“Plan ahead,” Goelz said.
New rams should be purchased a month or two before turnout to give them time to adapt to the farm, he said.
“It also gives the producer time to get the extra fat off of them that the breeder put on to make them look better,” he added.
Goelz recommends vaccinating replacement ewe lambs for Campylobacter two to four weeks prior to breeding and deworming all ewes at flushing.
“Rams should be through the quarantine period and semen tested well in advance of breeding,” Goelz said.
The breeding ewes should also be flushed and vaccinated for Chlamydia 30 and 60 days prior to breeding, he added.
Other recommendations for health management include separate considerations for feeder lambs and dryoff or grazing ewes.
For feeder lambs, Goelz encouraged daily observation, control of coccidiosis, control of barn cough and addressing prolapse.
He added that acidiosis can be addressed by providing bicarbonate, or Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, as free choice feed in a corner. The product can be purchased at feed suppliers, and ruminant animals are drawn to it if their stomach hurts.
For dryoff or grazing ewes, he recommends that producers nutritionally shock the ewes when early weaning. Goelz recommends straw and water for one week.
Also, producers should wean out of sight and out of hearing of lambs, provide deep bedding, graze rough or poor pasture, monitor for mastitis, cull poor doers, provide fly control, monitor foot rot or foot scald progress and deworm if necessary.
Lambing and gestation health
Pipestone, Minn. Veterinarian Larry Goelz also discourages producers from adding new ewes into the flock when they are gestating.
“That is the number one risk factor for abortions,” he said. “When they are gestating, they need to be managed as separate units. Contagious abortions can cause a five to 20 percent loss in fetuses if there isn't a control or prevention program in place.”
Goelz said ewe lambs and mature ewes should be gestated separately. The ewes should be sheared prior to lambing and poured with de-lice after shearing.
During mid-gestation, the ewes should receive an annual booster or Campylobacter, and two weeks prior to lambing, an annual booster of Clostridia C&D should be given. Goelz also recommends feeding tetracycline to the ewes during late gestation.
Goelz said if there are any abortions, the aborted fetus, bedding and the ewe should be removed as soon as possible because they are loaded with pathogens, and the other ewes will come and sniff it spreading the disease.
In a lambing barn situation, Goelz said ewes should spend two to three days in a lambing pen before they are moved to make sure the lamb is nursing and is off to a good start.
Producers need to ensure the lambing barn has good ventilation and clean bedding to minimize pneumonia. Before the ewes leave the lambing pen, they should be dewormed with a white dewormer like Safeguard, Panacur and Valbazen.
Lambs should be docked, castrated, identified and injected with one milliliter of long-lasting penicillin at docking.
Goelz said newborn lambs should be carefully monitored for sickness and to ensure they are nursing. If lambs are weak or not nursing, he recommends tube feeding. Lambs should be vaccinated with Clostridia C&D at four and six weeks of age, and possibly nine weeks of age. He also recommends creep feeding lambs with Decox.