Five million lambs lost every year

17 March 2008

A report in last week’s Vet Times (10 March) suggests that the UK sheep flock is losing around one in six of its lamb crop in the period leading up to, and immediately after birth. This equates to more than five million animal deaths each year.

Deaths around lambing can have a huge impact on the bottom line of any farming business. The Vet Times article also contains details of a study of the costs of Chlamydophila abortus (enzootic abortion or EAE) in lowland sheep flocks. This estimates that, over a five year period, losses due to abortion and the birth of weak and sickly lambs that die soon after birth can reach £5,000 for every 100 ewes infected.

The prospects for early life of lambs are heavily influenced by the months they spend as developing foetuses. The two main causes of abortion (EAE and toxoplasmosis) diagnosed in 2006 accounted for over 67% of all cases. The third biggest cause, campylobacter, accounted for just 12% of the reported abortions.

“Investigating the cause or causes of aborting ewes around lambing and taking the appropriate remedial action will help to reduce similar losses at future lambings. In well managed flocks, it should be possible to reduce the losses stated above by up to two thirds,” suggests Intervet’s large animal veterinary adviser, Rosemary Booth.

Around 600 farmers use Intervet’s subsidised blood testing service every year to help them find out the cause of the abortions and still birth in their flocks. This service, FlockCheck, runs annually and will be launched again at the end of March. It analyses samples taken from aborted ewes and reports the findings back to the farmer and supporting vet. The results clearly show whether the flock has been exposed to EAE and/or toxoplasmosis, allowing an appropriate vaccination programme to be planned later in the year to prevent the two diseases causing similar losses at subsequent lambings. Farmers interested in FlockCheck can get details from their vet.