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Time to think about vaccinating ewes

With tupping time around the corner, vaccinating ewes against abortion may be making its way onto farmers’ agendas.



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As breeding ewes are being bought, some precautions can be taken to keep on top of flock health.
As breeding ewes are being bought, some precautions can be taken to keep on top of flock health.
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I vaccinate my ewes against abortion - do you?

Time to start vaccinating ewes against abortion.

Toxoplasma and enzootic abortion are the two most common causes of abortion in the UK.

The EXPERTIS Barren EweCheck and FlockCheck diagnostic services took blood samples from 500 UK sheep farms during 2014, and found 81 per cent of flocks were exposed to the abortion-causing parasite toxoplasma gondii.

It revealed 52 per cent of flocks were exposed to the bacteria which causes enzootic abortion. Almost half of the flocks tested were found to have traces of both abortion causing organisms.

John Atkinson, technical manager at MSD Animal Health, says: “At this time of year, it is important to speak to your vet to make an abortion prevention plan. There is a window of opportunity for jabbing against abortion, but the optimum timing of vaccination differs from flock to flock.

“Enzootic abortion is more prevalent in late pregnancy and can be the cause of aborting ewes.

Toxoplasmosis causes problems throughout pregnancy. You can’t always tell the difference between the two infections in late pregnancy.

“Abortions and still births at lambing time are under-reported. It is such a busy time of year for sheep farmers, they often do not have the time.

“Blood tests can be used to test for infection by the abortion-causing organisms. These are only available at certain times of the year and should be carried out either at scanning, when barren ewes are identified, or at lambing when the effects of infection can clearly be seen.

“The bacteria associated with enzootic abortion is spread from ewe to ewe. The bacteria lie in the discharges, cleansing and the dead lamb. If ewes are seen to be aborting, they should be removed from the lambing shed immediately. Any mess should be removed from reach of other ewes,” says Mr Atkinson.

“If other ewes inspect an area of the shed where an abortion has taken place and they catch the infection, it is likely they will abort the following year. It is unlikely it will affect that year’s lamb.”



Toxoplasmosis

Cats are known as carriers of the toxoplasma gondii parasite. Many farmers believe the way to control levels of the parasite is to cull their farm’s feline population. But this is not the right strategy, according to Mr Atkinson.

“After infection, cats only shed the parasite’s eggs for a few weeks. They then become immune.

“The best way is to maintain a healthy, neutered cat population, which will warn off any incoming cats that could spread more eggs.

Vicki Fisher, veterinary surgeon at Farm First Veterinary Services, Abergavenny, says: “Cats ingest the parasite when eating placentas, dead lambs or infected
rodents.

“Placentas and aborted lambs need to be bagged and disposed of appropriately. This helps limit the spread of infection. It helps keep things clean in and around the lambing shed and pens.

“Now, as breeding ewes are being bought, some precautions can be taken to keep on top of flock health. It is important the history of the sheep is found out.

“If they have not already been vaccinated for abortion you should consider doing so. Ewes should be put into quarantine from the rest of the flock for at least three weeks. At this time, a wormer could also be given.”
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