Thursday, 29 November 2012

Putting flock welfare first



The first Sheep Health and Welfare Conference, organised by the Sheep Health and Welfare Group (SHAWG) in collaboration with the National Sheep Association (NSA), took place in Worcester last week.

Over 200 farmers, vets, SQPs (animal medicines advisers) and industry stakeholders braved dire weather conditions to make it to the event, including one delegate who had a six hour journey from Devon! As EBLEX is a major supporter of SHAWG, we were delighted to see the industry coming together to discuss what is a major challenge for the industry.

While the conference presentations covered a range of issues, one which came to the fore was the benefit of having a flock health plan which addresses real problems on the farm and embracing the SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) principles to reduce anthelmintic resistance. While most sheep farmers are aware that a health plan is desirable, there are undoubtedly some who treat it as a box-ticking exercise, while others have it as a standing item on their ‘to do’ list.

Hilary Mann of Waterend Farm, a firm advocate of health plans, spoke about how her plan has enabled her to reduce anthelmintic resistance by carrying out Faecal Egg Counts (FECs) and observing the SCOPS principles. Hilary’s impressive flock performance figures, combined with the fact that her approach has helped her save time and money, are certainly compelling arguments for those who remain unconvinced.

The day finished with a discussion about how the challenge of sheep scab could best be addressed in England. It was great to see unanimous support for an industry initiative for the disease, which independent livestock specialist Lesley Stubbings believes is currently costing the industry upwards of £8 million on treatments alone.

Due to the structure of the sheep industry in England, a large number of animal movements are inevitable, meaning individual flock biosecurity remains the only way to ensure a flock stays clean. There was broad support at the conference for measures to penalise those who ‘break the rules’ and fail to minimise the risk of the disease being spread between flocks.

While eradication of the disease isn’t currently a realistic goal, by pulling together as an industry there are significant steps we can take to reduce the impact of the problem.

All the presentations from the Sheep Health and Welfare Conference are now available on the EBLEX website.