Sheep producers are being urged to prioritise flock health this lambing season to improve efficiency and profitability.
Independent sheep consultant Kate Phillips says: “Ignoring the threat of coccidiosis could result in costly consequences. Even during the subclinical phase of the disease, it impacts the lamb’s ability to gain weight, which cannot be recovered, so performance is negatively affected. This is why it is so important to have an awareness of the potential impact in the first few weeks of a lamb’s life, as this is the main high risk period.
“There is a good understanding of the cost of coccidiosis infection when producers have historically had a problem. However, I still think some producers do not realise how severe the impact on production can be to a business.”
The economic impact of health and welfare issues in sheep flocks in England was investigated by ADAS, in conjunction with AHDB Beef and Lamb.
The report found the cost of intestinal parasitic infection was £4.40 per infected animal, requiring additional feed and three more weeks for finishing.
“I think this figure will shock many producers, but it includes the hidden cost of reduced growth rate, which results in lambs not finishing as quickly,” says Mrs Phillips.
For coccidiosis, she says losses can be very high if lambs are not treated quickly in the face of an outbreak.
“As well as some deaths, lambs can have permanent damage to their gut lining which affects their ability to absorb nutrients for the rest of their lives, leading to poor growth and prolonged finishing.”
“Of 100 lambs, there could be five deaths and 20 badly affected, delaying finishing by perhaps six weeks or more.
“The five deaths could potentially be a loss of up to £300, based on the value of £50 per four-week-old lamb, plus disposal costs.
“The reduced growth rate in the 20 infected lambs could result in a reduction of daily liveweight gain from 300 to 150g/day, meaning lambs would be 8.4kg lighter by 12 weeks, and so would not be finished in the targeted time.
“In a falling market, this could mean significantly lower lamb prices, compounding the losses already incurred.
Mrs Phillips says the key to getting on top of the disease and reducing the impact on flock health and production is planned management strategies and an awareness of the disease risk.
“After lambing, if you are seeing symptoms of coccidiosis, such as scouring, dull appearance and reduced growth rates in lambs aged four to eight weeks old, it is important to test for the presence of coccidia through faecal egg counting.
“If results indicate coccidiosis is present, treatment should be administered quickly to all lambs in the group,” she says.
“It is important to discuss the treatment options with your vet, taking into account the right product and dose rate administered at the right time.
“Coccidiosis is costly to both flock health and performance and can impact the bottom line, so producers need to make control a priority in any lambing season.”
Coccidiosis is one of the most common diseases which cause production losses in UK flocks, generally seen in lambs from three to eight weeks old.
Coccidial oocysts, which are eaten by lambs, grow and multiply in the cells of the gut, causing widespread damage if left untreated.
There are 11 species of coccidia which infect sheep, but only two are pathogenic, so it is important to establish the prevalence and species present to get full control of the disease.