Time when it pays to be on alert for seasonal diseases

Darlington and Stockton Times: VIGILANCE: Vet Ben Strugnell from the new post-mortem project VIGILANCE: Vet Ben Strugnell from the new post-mortem project

An update on the Fallen Stock Post Mortem project for March/April by Ben Strugnell, vet specialising in livestock post mortems

NEW lambs and new calves are now on the ground and this time of year it pays to be vigilant for certain seasonal diseases which can cause losses if left undiagnosed.

In sheep, coccidiosis has been diagnosed frequently; in most cases the lambs have read the textbooks.

Black or bloody scour, depressed lambs and good lambs losing their bloom are the classic signs, but occasionally a lamb can die before it shows any signs because of severe sudden blood loss into the intestine.

Lambs are typically three to eight weeks old when affected and it is important to get the diagnosis correct, as treatment without confirming disease is expensive.

On a few occasions so far this year, a prompt diagnosis based on a post mortem examination and a simple laboratory test has meant that the rest of the group could be treated.

This does not just prevent more deaths; it stops gut damage and growth rates are better. If timed right, lambs should be immune after treatment.

There are two treatments for coccidiosis: the first is a drench, the second is to prevent faeces building up around creeps, feed troughs, gates and under trees, and acting as a source for younger lambs.

Clostridial diseases like pulpy kidney and lamb dysentery have also been commonly found. The vaccines against these soil-borne diseases are usually very effective, assuming lambs receive enough colostrum. Particular attention should be paid to lambs which have been fostered which might not have had enough colostrum around birth.

There is a risk period between the time when protection from colostrum runs out but before the lamb has its own immunity. Early vaccination of lambs, where possible, can help reduce this.

In cattle, the clostridial diseases, eg blackleg, have also been in evidence and again, vaccination is cheap compared with the cost of a dead beast.

Keeping a closed herd is to be encouraged in general but it does not help with these diseases, caused by bacteria in the soil.

One or two calves and lambs with skeletal deformities have been seen which makes one wonder about Schmallenberg virus.

At the time of writing, laboratory confirmation is awaited but this disease which some thought would sweep through the country, leaving an immune (protected) herd and flock, may yet cause some losses.

Prediction of where and when it may strike is difficult but the more we see it the more we will learn and thus be able to predict future behaviour.

It is possible to predict when a female animal was infected (bitten by a midge) if disease is confirmed, so the detective story usually starts when disease is confirmed in an affected calf.

Also in cattle we have seen a variant of the ‘bleeding calf syndrome’ which was associated with one particular vaccine.

A series of cases is emerging in cattle which could not possibly have been exposed to that vaccine, so there is speculation that there may be a naturally occurring or different form of the disease.

Research and surveillance continues (with your help!).

The Eblex-funded project aims to provide an inexpensive and accessible post mortem service based at J Warren ABP in Hamsterley, County Durham.

To benefit from the service, the farmer should request a post-mortem at the time of collection.

This will be conducted at the collection centre and the results reported back to the farmer within 24 hours.

Details from Ben Strugnell on 07899- 950372 or Warrens ABP.

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