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The Insight - Sheep & Beef Newsletter

Across most of North Canterbury this past year has been a good one for dryland sheep and beef farms.  While feed supply has generally been positive, a good growing season has bought with it a few challenges that I know I have learnt from, and will bank away a few lessons for future years. 

Clients I speak to regularly have consistently struggled this season with parasitism in sheep of all age classes. Most would comment that ewe condition is back on previous seasons, and many have seen scanning rates in mixed age ewes come back 10-15% on last year with an increased number of dry ewes.  If the discussion points below resonate with your experience this season, please take the time to enquire about completing an animal health plan.  80 sheep and beef clients have completed a full farm plan with us in the last 18 months and feedback is very positive. 

What lessons have I learnt this year?

If November is wet, lambs at foot are likely to develop high egg counts prior to weaning.  I personally think that lambs on many farms put out a huge amount of contamination in the wet early summer period and consequently every sheep stock class paid the price for this contamination that was put out onto pasture through the rest of the season. 

How would I change practice?

1) Monitor faecal egg counts in lambs prior to weaning
2) Explore pre-weaning drench strategies with your vet

A surplus of feed grown in the summer can be extremely poor quality.  The graph shows the results of 6 pasture samples collected from a farm in Omihi this year.  At tupping time fed quality on this dryland pasture was barely enough for maintenance of a mixed age ewe.  This situation is likely to have repeated across North Canterbury, and ewes eating their way through a surplus of low- quality feed like this at tupping is likely a significant contributing factor behind both lower ewe body condition scores and scanning rates.  Measuring feed quality in addition to looking at pasture covers is a tool I am keen to use to make informed decisions about flushing and tupping supplementary feed decisions.

Monitoring faecal egg counts (FEC) in 2-tooths and mixed age ewes is an important practice that too many of us don’t complete.  There is no argument from me that we should be working toward the goal of running ewes that don’t require a drench as an adult.  However, that longer term goal doesn’t mean all your ewes are currently of the genetic merit that they can cope with this management today, especially in a season like we just had.  A cross-bred ewe flock that is eating poor quality feed, and that is being challenged by a high parasite numbers put out by lambs in a wet Nov/Dec, can develop significant worm burdens.  I have seen too many cases this season where ewes have remained parasitised for too long, resulting in reduced body condition and reduced performance.  If a ewe is parasitised, a drench is justified.  I would strongly encourage you to lift your routine FEC monitoring of older sheep.  A low FEC test result is not wasted money, it is positive and valuable information that is guiding your management practices and reinforcing your breeding selection. 

I cannot encourage you enough to sit down with one of our experienced sheep and beef vets to complete an annual animal health plan tailored to your farm.  I guarantee you will see a huge amount of value returned for the small time investment.

Ben Allott – NCVC Veterinarian

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North Canterbury Veterinary Clinics operates four clinics throughout the Hurunui region.