Nematodirosis is a severe disease of lambs six to twelve weeks of age, which become infected through ingesting large numbers of infective larvae present on contaminated pasture.
The life cycle of the Nematodirus battus worm is unlike that of other roundworms in that, typically it takes almost a year before the egg hatches releasing the infective larvae. There is a mass hatching of larvae in spring when the soil temperature increases after a period of cold weather and disease typically occurs in April, May and June.
Infection is characterised by profuse diarrhoea, dehydration and weight loss. Mortality can be high in untreated lambs. After ingestion, Nematodirus larvae invade the intestinal mucosa and in some cases death may occur before signs of diarrhoea are observed. Ewes will appear clinically normal. This disease is best prevented by keeping the current year’s lambs off pasture that was grazed by lambs or young calves last year.
Disease caused by Nematodirus can resemble coccidiosis in lambs
It is also important that farmers are aware that other parasites cause diarrhoea in young lambs and require different control measures and medication.
Nematodirus can be wrongly assumed to be the cause of severe diarrhoea in lambs when in fact the cause is a coccidial infection. Rotation of pasture and frequent movement of feeding troughs and watering points to drier areas will help prevent coccidiosis in young lambs as localised poaching creates moist conditions suitable for the spread of this parasite. Raising feeding troughs will also help reduce the contamination of feed with faeces.
It is advisable to consult a private veterinary practitioner for an accurate diagnosis and advice on appropriate medication if lambs with severe diarrhoea and straining are observed. This is especially the case where there has been little or no response to an initial treatment. Both nematodirosis and coccidiosis can occur at the same time in the same lambs, so treatment may need to be targeted at both pathogens.