Friday, 22 February 2019

Dealing with lameness at lambing time

In this month’s blog, qualified vet, Liz Nabb tackles the topic of dealing with lameness at lambing time.

Housing ewes prior to lambing can bring problems when it comes to infectious lameness, especially when they are housed for a long time.

Although frequent bedding-up helps to maintain a dry lying surface, the warm and damp conditions beneath create a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. With the ewes so close to each other, it makes conditions ideal for the rapid spread of scald/footrot and Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitus (CODD).

So how can we ensure that we do the best for our flock, avoid spreading disease and use this time to your advantage to gain control of infectious lameness?

Stop the spread

Perhaps unsurprisingly, catching ewes for early treatment and segregation of affected ewes is easier to do when they’re housed than when they’re in a field.

One tip that will help is to try to separate lame ewes at the point of housing, with lame ewes being placed in a separate pen until they are fully recovered.

A lame ewe among a large group will likely have a reduced feed intake, especially if concentrates are trough fed. This puts her at risk of twin lamb disease and other problems. Separation also has the added advantage of allowing you to make sure that they are getting their full ration.

It is also important not to turn ewes and their lambs out until they are sound. Healthy feet means less pasture contamination, reducing the risk of spread and leading to fewer problems in both ewes and lambs later in the spring.

Appropriate treatment

Any ewes that you think might be lame should be caught and checked as soon as you notice them. Make sure you take the time to watch the ewes closely as it can be hard to spot early signs of lameness at a high stocking density and on bedding. Sometimes the sign can be as subtle as a change in their behaviour. If you are worried about tipping up a heavily pregnant ewe to check her feet then simply pick each foot up individually instead - do whatever causes the least stress for both of you.

If the ewe has infectious lameness, treat it with an injectable antibiotic and use an antibiotic spray on all four feet. Don’t be tempted to delay treatment because of the pregnancy. The most commonly used antibiotics carry little risk for pregnant ewes and a sheep in pain will be under far more stress than one which is promptly caught and treated.

Don’t be afraid to use injectable antibiotics either. Individual treatments are justified for reasons of both welfare and for the prevention of further cases in the long run. This includes scald, which has been shown to be highly infectious and can shed more bacteria than footrot cases. Whole flock treatments, including antibiotic footbaths, however, cannot be justified in this era of responsible antibiotic use.

Recognising the cause of the lameness is key for treatment selection, in particular for CODD, which can have a disappointing response to the antibiotic oxytetracycline. 

Lameness in lambs

The main cause of lameness in young lambs is joint ill. Sometimes lambs can appear to be weak and unable to stand before joint swelling develops. This leads farmers to mistakenly assume selenium deficiency instead. A correct diagnosis is vital because joint ill needs to be treated quickly for there to be any chance of a full recovery.

Joint ill in young lambs (less than three weeks old) is caused by bacteria which are almost always non-responsive to oxytetracycline. It also requires lengthy treatment to achieve full recovery, often between seven and 10 days. Ask your vet for an anti-inflammatory too, as a lamb in pain is less inclined to suckle.

If your lambs are still lame after a course of antibiotics they should be euthanised as joint damage sadly means they will be in pain for the rest of their life.

Other infectious causes of lameness rarely tend to affect lambs until they are a little older. The odd case of scald can be managed with antibiotic spray. 

Put the foot trimmers away

It is good practice to examine the feet of every ewe as soon as you get the chance. However, don’t be tempted to have a snip – a bit of hoof overgrowth is to be expected following housing on soft bedding and the horn will soon wear away after turnout. Foot trimmers are also an easy way to accidentally spread infection from ewe to ewe and, at worst, can lead to lasting damage.

Finally, if you have a board for recording births, etc., make a note of the ewes which have been treated for lameness. This will make it easier for you to track repeat offenders and to make culling decisions later on.

Liz is currently researching strain specific vaccinations for footrot and is funded by AHDB. Her project will complete in autumn 2021.

For more information see the BRP manual Reducing Lameness for Better Returns and watch the podcast recording ' Lameness, the five point plan and top tips'

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Ensuring the best start for your lamb crop

Lis King, AHDB Sheep Scientist, gives some top tips around best lambing practices and focuses on
the importance of hygiene at lambing.

Lambing is probably one of your busiest periods so spending some time now to get organised and set yourself a lambing routine will play dividends when you’re tired. Your lambing plan should ensure two things:

  • Lambs must receive the right quantity of quality colostrum quickly (the three Qs of colostrum) 
  • Good hygiene, which becomes more important as lambing progresses due to the build-up of bacteria

If you incorporate these two points into your plan it will reduce the risk of watery mouth, joint ill, navel ill, mastitis and metritis (uterus infections) and other generalised infections, maximise the chance of survival, reduce mortality and make good business sense. It also reduces the need for antibiotic treatment, helping to prevent antibiotic resistance developing on your farm.

Bacteria in the environment can enter lambs through several routes including the mouth, the navel and ear tags to potentially cause disease. While bacteria enter the lamb within the first few hours after birth, infection may not develop immediately. This delay means farmers don’t always associate the two (e.g. joint ill). Ensuring lambs suckle a sufficient quantity of quality colostrum within 24 hours of birth is essential, as it provides the antibodies necessary to protect lambs from disease. Lambs need to consume 50ml/kg of colostrum in the first two hours and 200ml/kg in the first 24 hours, so a 5kg lamb would need to consume 250ml within 2 hours and 1 litre within 24 hours of birth. Colostrum quality can easily be checked using a brix refractometer. There are also a number of simple good hygiene practices you can adopt to help protect ewes and lambs further.

If the flock is lambing indoors, lambing pens should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected prior to bringing the ewes into lamb. Housing should be well-ventilated but draft free and the floor dry, with plenty of fresh bedding in both group and individual pens. Keep bedding as clean and dry as possible. Clean out individual pens between ewes and lambs if possible, or spread disinfectant or lime before re-bedding. Take special care of popular areas for giving birth (e.g. the back or corner of the housing) and remove any obvious wet bedding and afterbirth. The AHDB bedding materials directory is useful if you are looking for alternatives to straw following the drought last year.

Wear disposable gloves for lambing assists and have facilities handy to enable washing of hands regularly, remember to keep all lambing and equipment clean and to disinfect between each use. Lambing can be a stressful time so it is important that equipment is ready beforehand.

Treat lambs’ navels within 15 minutes of birth with strong iodine solution (10 percent) and preferably alcohol based. The alcohol helps to dry the navel. The treatment needs to be repeated at least once, at around two to four hours later, ensure the entire navel is covered. Either a spray or dip can be used, but if using dips, change the solution and clean the cup regularly to prevent spreading disease. The repeat application can be built into a routine and applied when you go back to check the lamb has received adequate colostrum. 

Finally, place ear tags in surgical spirit prior to application, this will disinfect the tags and help reduce the chance of introducing infection.

I hope my top tips will give your lamb crop the best start, reduce the number of animals you need to treat with antibiotics and most importantly increase your flock performance. Happy lambing!

For more information refer to the Better Returns Programme manuals including Reducing lamb losses for Better Returns, Using medicines correctly for Better Returns and Targeting lamb management for Better Returns

You can also watch our AHDB webinars, on our YouTube channel; Reducing lamb losses and Lambing success - responsible use of antibiotics at lambing time

Friday, 21 December 2018

AHDB Beef & Lamb activity throughout 2018

As we look forward to the opportunities and challenges that 2019 may bring us, we also reflect on the key AHDB beef and lamb activity that has happened during 2018.

During January, we launched AHDB’s farm excellence network. We have a great network of 46 farmers from all sectors, spanning across the country, that will undoubtedly contribute to us ensuring UK agriculture and horticulture industries are world-renowned. 

The beginning part of the year also saw our Quality Standard Mark team working with a number of top chefs such as Chris Wheeler and Dez Turland, to produce a series of videos in the ‘off the block series’ to share tips with chefs on how to utilise the whole carcase. We worked with Defra, the Food Standards Agency, UK Export Certification Partnership (UKECP), Quality Meat Scotland and HCC Meat Promotion Wales, to gain approval to export manufacturing beef to Canada, which saw many years of negotiations.

In February, we saw an agreement to progress lifting the BSE ban on UK beef exports to China as well as gaining approval granted to export lamb to Saudi Arabia, which could be worth £25 million over the next five years.

Combatting Bovine TB is a national priority, manifested by the £100 million spent annually on disease surveillance, monitoring and non-genetic control, so we have started working with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to focus on how we can reduce the disease. We’ve also been working to help farmers reduce their use of antibiotics. According to RUMA, the UK farming industry has already achieved reductions of 40 per cent in sales of antibiotics over the past five years and is one of the lowest users of antibiotics in Europe. However, we need to be more ambitious and continue our reduction of use on-farm.

May saw the launch of the first stage of the Cheeky beef campaign. We targeted families with cheeky headlines such as ‘fancy a mid-week quickie’ and encouraged them to cook with thin cut beef steaks, which are easy and versatile as midweek meals. We also got involved with supporting Great British Beef Week and during September, we focused on Love Lamb Week. All our campaigns aim to showcase UK farming and celebrate beef and lamb with shoppers. 

This summer saw some of the hottest and most challenging weather in nearly 40 years, so we developed a drought hub that aimed to help farmers to deal with the extremes in weather and plan sufficiently for the months ahead. We also announced our involvement with the new livestock traceability service.

During August, we started our new podcast that highlights some of the work that is being done within AHDB but also focuses on some of the main challenges on farm and how others are tackling them. So far, we have looked at the drought, sheep lameness, as well as hearing from some of our Strategic Farmers. We also welcomed Will Jackson as our new Sector Strategy Director, and are working with him on a regular basis to ensure levy payers are at the heart of what we do.

During October, we put a call out to recruit for a group of progressive beef and lamb farmers. Deadlines for the applications close at the end of December, so there is still time to apply.

One of our key activities are our programme of Knowledge Exchange events. This year we’ve had 158 technical events, including 59 Farm to Fork workshops. We’ve also year run a total of 20 Strategic Farm events this year with around 1000 delegates attending. Events are starting to be added to our events calendar for next year, which you can check out here

With Brexit looming there will be challenges on the horizon and we need to work together to ensure the beef and lamb industry remains strong and resilient. Our Market Intelligence team have been developing publications that will help you to run through a series of post-Brexit scenarios and also help to prepare you for the outcome. There will also be opportunities, and we endeavour to deliver a quality service to all our farmers to help ensure their businesses are more sustainable and profitable.

We wish you a very Happy Christmas and great New Year.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Ensuring your livestock meets consumers’ needs

Steve Powdrill, AHDB's National Selection Specialist, runs our programme of Farm to Fork events, helping beef and sheep farmers to understand more about how to market prime beef or lamb. He writes about the importance of finishing livestock to their full potential.

As a beef or sheep farmer it is important that you think of yourself as a meat producer. You are providing a product to an end market, the consumer, so you need to understand what people want to buy. Around 49 per cent of prime beef and 40 per cent of prime lamb currently fails to meet ideal target market specifications, which has a significant impact on the price farmers are paid for their stock.

I spend a lot of time out and about talking to farmers and processors and, at this time of year, I’m seeing a lot of animals being brought in to abattoirs that are either under or over-finished. It is important to market all stock to their full potential and don’t rely on weighing animals alone – after a certain point stock will be adding more fat than meat, and consumers do not want an over-fat product. Equally, it’s important to ensure stock are not too lean as under-finished stock also have the potential to be out of spec, all of which reduces returns and has a knock-on effect to the consumer.
At times abattoirs can be fully booked up for several weeks, dependant on supply and demand, so I recommend that you plan in advance and keep in touch with your local abattoir about their specific waiting times.

Weather plays a huge part in finishing in terms of stock and feed quality so feedback  as to how stock are killing out is vital. If you’re selling deadweight, check kill sheets and assess how your animals are performing.

To help the industry understand more about selection, we run practical ‘Farm to Fork’ events across the country (previously ‘Live to Dead’ events) that allow farmers to handle live animals and make their assessment of fat cover and conformation using the EUROP grid. They then see the same animals on the hook in the chillers along with the actual classification, so it is a good way to compare the two results. These events also give people the opportunity to discuss various market requirements, factors affecting killing out percentages and dressing specifications. You can find the latest ‘Farm to Fork’ events on our website.

The beef and lamb industry needs to work together to increase the proportion of livestock meeting specification, as this will result in improved returns to farmers and an industry that is better focused on meeting consumer needs.

You can play your part by making use of the great resources AHDB produces as part of the Better Returns Programme. These are available to download from the Better Returns section of our website They will provide you with information around understanding the end consumer, through to practical advice on how to handle your livestock.

Find out more about understanding your market and their requirements in the BRP manuals Marketing prime beef cattle for Better Returns and Marketing prime lamb for Better Returns

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

It’s the season to test your livestock for parasites

Lis King, AHDB Sheep Scientist, gives a timely reminder for sheep and beef farmers to monitor their livestock for worms and liver fluke 

Internal parasites (worms and liver fluke) pose a significant threat to animal health and performance. Farmers are encouraged to plan their grazing strategies to reduce the risk of infection and use available monitoring tools. Autumn is a high risk period for liver fluke, and this coincides with some of our Challenge Sheep farmers finding high worm egg counts in their flock’s faecal matter.

Fit mature stock should not require worming but young or thin stock may require a wormer. Look out for risk forecasts on the National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS), Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) and Control Of Worms Sustainably (COWS) websites and speak to your vet for advice.

The peak fluke season is predicted to be later and shorter this year following the hot dry weather. In spite of this, high snail numbers have been observed in some areas of the country. Fields with a lower risk of fluke infection are drier, better drained with no persistent wet patches. Those that have been re-seeded, contain brassicas or were not grazed earlier in the year are also lower risk. Sheep are more likely to die from liver fluke infection during autumn than cattle. Symptoms of the disease in cattle are less obvious, including reduced feed intake, loss of body condition and slower growth rates. 

Testing for worms and fluke will help to avoid unnecessary treatments and checks whether treatment has been effective. It can also inform decisions about which stock to treat, what to treat them with and when. Importantly, it will allow you to differentiate between liver fluke and worms, particularly as infection with liver fluke can produce similar symptoms to haemonchus (worms).

Testing tools include: faecal egg counts (FECs), the coproantigen test, blood (ELISA) test, post-mortems of dead animals and abattoir liver returns. When using FECs it is important to remember that the results need to be considered with other information such as age, stocking density, time of 
year and performance levels.

In cattle, treatment decisions should be based on the likelihood of cattle having grazed infected pasture that season and on their treatment history. Using FECs to test for gut worms at housing is not useful because treatment needs to be targeted at the immature stage of the lifecycle when eggs have not yet been shed.

Top tips given by SCOPS and COWS include:

· Don’t get caught out by treating too early. Monitor to determine the need and timing of treatments

· In lower risk situations, consider treating sheep with closantel or nitroxynil rather than triclabendazole. Re‐infection (when treated animals are put back on to contaminated areas) is still a concern.

· Worms (including haemonchus, which can produce signs similar to liver fluke disease) may be the problem.

· Investigate losses. A post mortem is still the best way to establish whether liver fluke is present.

· Monitor abattoir returns carefully for evidence of liver fluke.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Red meat and its links to the environment and climate change

There is constant debate around red meat and the impact it has on our environment. James Wilde, Head of Media and PR at AHDB, explains how the organisation is trying to tackle negative messages around farming and climate change and help farmers to learn more about the impact of their farm businesses on the environment.

In the last week, the Government has sought the advice of climate experts on whether to set an even more ambitious target than its current one for reducing carbon emissions. It follows a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), showing rapid action is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid devastating impacts from climate change.

As a consequence, the issue of climate change has had a very high media profile, with a number of articles from the likes of the Independent and the Guardian advising a reduction in consumption of red meat leading to a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions is a must. The only dissenting voice in this debate has been that of Climate Minister Claire Perry, who has come under fire for her comments about her own preference for eating lots of local meat and her refusal to advise people about a climate-friendly diet.

It is a fact that methane, which is a natural by-product of how livestock break down their feed, does contribute to greenhouse gases. However, levels of methane emissions are comparatively low in the UK, with livestock production responsible for five per cent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions, and the industry is working hard to reduce these even further through breeding and feeding initiatives.

It is also balanced by the fact that grazing cattle and sheep manage permanent pasture as an effective carbon sink, they aid biodiversity and they make use of agricultural land that could not be used for growing crops. Effectively, take livestock off it and you take a massive amount of land out of food production at a time when our population continues to grow.

Put in context, livestock production in the UK has many positives which are rarely mentioned in the media coverage of these stories. Food production should be matched to the parts of the world where the land is most suited for the product being grown, the UK is a sustainable place to produce red meat due to our climate and geography, with few inputs required.

However, unfortunately and despite AHDB’s best efforts, many media outlets fail to seek out this balancing opinion. AHDB is using both traditional and social media to provide the industry and the wider public with clear facts surrounding meat and the environment. For more facts on climate change visit the AHDB Beef & Lamb website.

We also challenge misinformation whenever we can and attempt to inject balance into conversations which are being aired in public. Often a measure of success can be to keep things out of the media!

What is important is that we speak with a consistent voice – from farming in the UK and across the globe – to ensure we present an authoritative, robust and realistic view of how livestock farming benefits the environment.

AHDB information on climate change

Our Landscapes without Livestock report provides a visual guide to what impact a reduction in beef and sheep farming would have on some of England’s most cherished landscapes
We have also produced a series of three roadmaps exploring the environmental aspects of beef and sheep farming in more detail.

For more information, visit our corporate publications area to download: Change in the Air, Testing the Water and Down to earth.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Ensuring housing is suitable for dairy bred calves

Sarah Pick, Knowledge Exchange Manager – National Assistant writes about the most recent AHDB-funded calf discussion group meeting which focused on calf housing and its effect on youngstock health and performance. 

The discussion group was set up last summer in partnership with Meadow Quality to encourage farmer-to-farmer learning and discussion on improved youngstock health. Eight calf rearers form part of the group, which is facilitated by Nick Gibbon of Belmont Vets.

The group meets every three months, with each rearer taking it in turns to host the meeting. At the last meeting, the conversation focused on calf housing and ventilation specialist Dr Mike Wolf from the USA led the discussion

Adequate housing is essential for promoting calf health; one of the major causes of mortality and poor performance in youngstock is pneumonia. The disease can often be avoided if buildings are well designed and managed with good ventilation and drainage.

Dr Wolf gave us some top tips on how to assess whether housing is suitable:

1. Housing
One of the best ways to assess if the housing is adequate is to keep accurate records of calf weights and incidence of disease. Calves should be growing at least 0.7kg/day up to weaning and should be double their birthweight by this time. Pneumonia incidence is also important to record, with fewer than 15 cases of the disease expected in every 100 calves reared, or 15 per cent of the batch.

2. Ventilation
Good ventilation removes stale, damp air which helps ensure viruses and bacteria can’t survive for long outside the animal. Large sheds are unsuitable for calves due to their low bodyweight, they can’t generate enough heat to drive the ‘stack effect,’ resulting in less air movement. In these cases, mechanical ventilation should be considered. It must be designed to the height and specific requirements of the building and it’s best to seek expert advice. This will determine the duct diameter and length, the fan capacity and diameter of the outlet holes in the duct.

Ventilation can be assessed in a number of non-evasive ways. The presence of flies and cobwebs are a sign of poor ventilation. Flies can be reduced by using fly tapes early in the season. Also, after feeding look at the distribution of calves within the shed. If they are all huddled in one area, this area must be providing them with their preferred environment so try and replicate this across the shed.

3. Drainage
Adequate drainage is particularly important as bacteria thrive in wet conditions. By removing moisture the risk of disease is reduced. It is recommended that concrete floors have a minimum slope of one in 60 across the whole pen, and one in 20 for areas with expected high moisture levels. This will allow effective drainage of water and urine from under straw. This is particularly important when calves are being fed using machines as often more moisture is produced.

4. Bedding
Bedding reduces contact between the calf and the floor and any soiled straw, it also keeps the calves warm. Where possible, calves should be cleaned out every three weeks to reduce moisture and bacterial load.

Remember changes to calf housing do not need to be done all at once. You’ll soon start to see the benefits when small changes are made as and when time and money allow.

For more information on designing or making alterations to calf housing please read the BRP+ document ‘Better calf housing’ available on the AHDB Beef & Lamb website. Alternatively watch our videos Assessing calf buildings and Assessing ventilation.

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) are running a campaign on calf health that focuses on reducing respiratory disease. You can follow the campaign online by using the #calfhealth