Due diligence | Sheep producers must purchase replacements carefully
NISKU, Alta. — Forget about coyotes. The most dangerous animal to a sheep is another sheep, said Dr. Chris Clark, a veterinarian with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon.
Diseases are the major cause of losses in the sheep industry, so producers need to be wary of introducing any outside sheep into the flock without asking a lot of questions, said Clark.
“Farms most successful are the ones who don’t bring new sheep onto the farm. Sheep from somewhere else, with unknown health status, could be carrying just about anything,” Clark told a recent Alberta Sheep Breeders Association meeting.
“You have to start by thinking of where you are sourcing replacements from. You are potentially bringing in disease.”
Clark recommended that producers know as much about the animals they are buying as possible. He suggested working with veterinarians to help identify diseases but also said producers should ask sellers tough questions about the flock.
“The only way to know if the sheep has those diseases is to have an open and frank discussion with the vendor,” he said.
He said producers should ask about the farm’s culling rate as well as the number of abortions and if the aborted fetuses were sent to a lab to identify causes. Both ways can help identify potential problems, he added.
“You are depending on the reputation of that seller.”
Clark said producers need to plan to buy replacements long before the breeding season rather than buying whatever is sold through the auction two weeks before the animals are needed.
“You have to decide where things are coming from. If you don’t have a plan for replacements, nothing else matters,” said Clark, who often hears from producers about disease problems after they have introduced new sheep into the flock.
“Replacements trump everything else.”
Clark said discussions of biosecurity often focus on hygiene and cleaning equipment, but the easiest form of biosecurity is trying not to introduce the disease onto the farm in the first place.
“I’m not saying sheep should be raised in a bubble,” he said.
“I am not talking of raising sheep that are free of disease but planning so the disease doesn’t get in the flock.”
Minimizing the number of times sheep leave and return to the farm for a show or community pasture is another way to reduce disease on the farm.
The returning sheep should be placed in an isolation pasture to reduce the introduction of disease.
Sick animals should be quickly isolated from the healthy herd to stop the transmission of disease within a flock.
Clark also recommended reducing access to the flock by off-farm visitors, especially other sheep producers or sheep shearers.
“People who come in contact with sheep are the highest risk.”
He also recommended not using the same farm tractor bucket to dispose of dead stock and move feed around.
“You need to have a disinfection plan, or have two buckets,” he said.
“It is almost impossible to disinfect a bucket.”