Sheep Guide - Abortions in sheep and how to prevent them


Lambing season is well underway throughout the country, but for those who have yet to commence their lambing season, are you as prepared as you can be? This week the focus is on abortions in sheep and the best way to prevent them!

Sheep Guide - Abortions in sheep and how to prevent them

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Lambing season is well underway throughout the country, but for those who have yet to commence their lambing season, are you as prepared as you can be? This week the focus is on abortions in sheep and the best way to prevent them!

Lambing season has well and truly commenced, and many farmers are in the midst of the busiest time of their calendar year.

Abortions are a common occurrence on sheep farms throughout the country, but are you doing all you can to prevent them from occurring? This week, we profile Chlamydial abortions in sheep, teaching you all you need to know in the battle to come out on top!

Chlamydial abortion and the causes -
Chlamydial abortion is caused by a bacterium, Chlamydophila abortus, that spreads to the womb and afterbirth of an unprotected sheep and kills the developing lambs.

Aborted lambs, afterbirth and discharges from aborted ewes are heavily contaminated and can infect other pregnant sheep. Non-pregnant female sheep, including newborn lambs, can pick up the infection from an aborting ewe and the organism will remain latent until the animal is 90 days pregnant, when it will then become active and cause the animal to abort.

The disease can be brought into a clean flock through the introduction of infected sheep that picked up the infection during a previous lambing season. In controlling the disease, a live vaccine is available for the control of EAE and can be given ahead of tupping.

If Chlamydial abortion is identified in a flock, a farmer can prevent further losses through abortion with the treatment of sheep with oxytetracycline at 95-105 days of pregnancy. Any sheep to have previously succumb to Chlamydial abortions usually remain immune from the disease for life, meaning they can be retained by farmers.

Toxoplasmosis, the causes and control-
A zoonotic disease caused by a protozoan parasite, Toxoplasmosis does not only affect sheep, but also other animals. It is also very dangerous to pregnant women.

The disease is caused by sheep becoming infected from ingesting oocysts shed by cats on pasture or in contaminated feed, bedding or water. The main source of the parasite is cat faeces. Infection of sheep early in pregnancy may result in unnoticed abortions or barrenness whereas infection in later pregnancy may cause stillbirth, mummified foetus or birth of a weak lamb. Following infection, sheep develop immunity which will protect them against the disease in subsequent pregnancies.

Control: The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to have greater rodent control and to make use of the live vaccine that is available. Sheep who have aborted previously with toxoplasmosis can be retained, as they are more than likely immune for life. Again, on farms where an outbreak occurs, it can be controlled by treating the flock with long-acting oxytetracycline at 95-105 days of pregnancy.

Signs and Symptoms -
There are many different signs and symptoms to look out for when assessing the dangers of abortion in your flock. Check them out below!

  • Loss of appetite
  • Barren to tup
  • Discharge from nostrils or eyes
  • Lethargic, no energy
  • Dribbling
  • Coughing
  • Scour
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Swollen joints
  • Excessive scratching
  • Abnormal posture
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Extreme wool loss
  • Panting
  • Unusual abscesses or wounds
  • Lack of normal movement/Lameness
  • Withdrawal from the flock

News from the world of sheep -
Teagasc are set to host their National Sheep Conference with focus on improving Efficiency.

Teagasc is hosting two national lowland sheep conferences in January with a theme of ‘Improving the efficiency of your sheep farming enterprise’. These will be held in the Tullamore Court Hotel, Co. Offaly on Tuesday, 29th January and the Clanree Hotel, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal on Thursday, 31st January, both starting at 6pm.

There will be three papers presented, highlighting relevant and topical areas of interest to Irish sheep farmers. The first speaker will be Lesley Stubbings, LSSC Ltd, in the Uk and she will address; ‘Developing key performance indicators – how useful is body condition score?’ The second presentation at the conference will cover ‘Mineral nutrition of grazing sheep – problems and solutions’ and will be given by Dr. Nigel Kendall, a lecturer in the University of Nottingham.

An international sheep research project called SheepNet is looking at relevant and practical lessons from international sheep farming. The SheepNet (Sharing Expertise and Experience towards sheep Productivity through NETworking) project aims to increase sheep productivity throughout the six primary sheep producing countries in the EU including France, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK. Dr. Tim Keady, Teagasc, is the primary Irish researcher leading SheepNet. In his paper to the sheep conference, Dr. Keady will outline the three primary areas of the project; reproduction, gestation and reducing lamb mortality while also giving us an overview of the practical knowledge and advice that has been gathered from each of the participating countries.

Declan McEvoy, from IFAC will present a paper on ‘Planning your future and protecting the family farm! Have you considered the opportunities and implications of passing on the farm to the next generation?’

The Teagasc lowland sheep conferences are both Department of Agriculture KT approved events. The Teagasc hill sheep conference will take place on Tuesday, 19th February in the Glendalough Hotel, Co. Wicklow.

Sheep Price Updates 18/01/19:
The National Sheep chair of the IFA, Sean Dennehy, has noted that lamb markets are stronger this week, with factories paying between €5.25 and €5.30 per kg. Mr. Dennehy explained that lamb prices were up by 6% in 2018 on 2017 figures, with an average price of €5.32 per kg plus VAT.

He also noted that total supplies at the factories were up by 39,293 head in 2018, due mainly to an increased ewe kill, which was up 60,000.

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