Video 43 Flock health planning is essential
Like so many others I have been advocating for flock health planning for many years now. Many farmers have engaged with this approach. We do however need more sheep farmers to look at adopting this approach.
A health plan is not just a sterile document with some boxes that need to be ticked. It is in fact a living plan that must evolve and is very farm specific. Adopting this preventative approach means we are committed to improving our farm performance and profitability.
It involves working with your advisors to help make better decisions around management and husbandry.
With any plan, there must be some goals set or targets on an annual basis. They work particularly well when you’re doing this with others to benchmark the farm performance against each other.
The first step is to set out some production performance targets for your flock. This might vary between pedigree and commercial flocks. It will be different for lowland and upland production systems.
The approach to improvement will be the same. Regular reviews of what’s working and what’s not. Setting out actions on a regular basis based on what your flock and farm are telling you about how overall performance is working.
Some baseline targets for a typical flock are measuring outputs and inputs.
Looking to set up a profitable system. The argument, of course, will be this could be heavily influenced by the markets.
You cant control the markets so you must look inside the farm gate and do what you can in there. In pasture-based systems, we must utilize grass as a cheap available feed. Maximize our outputs and also look at other inputs at key times of the year.
Vaccines, parasite control, and minerals must be seen as an investment in health. They all must be measured on their cost-benefit.
Some baseline targets
By looking at these we can see where our production systems are working and where we need to put in more effort.
I like to look at the medicine book in flocks to see where medicines, particularly antibiotics, are being used. Is it on lameness, abortion, or in and around lambing time? Looking at what dosing is being used and when?
Then the % game is about assessing how fertile the flock is?
• Start with the scanning % and see if this matches the genetic potential of the flock. I have found huge benefits here to really focusing in on key areas to help pre tupping.
• Then look at lambing % and see where the losses might be around lambing time. Is abortion a factor we need to consider. We need to start recording lamb losses and look for patterns. Why are we losing lambs and what can we do to make improvements
• Then we can look at weaning % and lambs sold %. This allows us to facotr in what the production system is currently doing and where and what areas we might target.
In lamb production, we are in the business of weight. Measuring and setting out some targets for daily live weight gain is so important. Some flocks are averaging 350g/day and many others 150-200g/day.
How do we achieve these greater outputs (relative to the type of system,) while watching and balancing inputs.
Timing flock visits
For me there was three key times to be with a flock for this type of approach
1. 6-8 weeks out from tupping. Reviewing the figures from the previous year. Getting ram health and numbers right for breeding. Focusing on flock BCS (most important) and also mineral supplementation to help achieve optimal levels of fertility.
My experience was upping ram numbers and focusing on nutrition was where I saw the most impacts. We need to consider abortion vaccination pre tupping. We also must look ahead to parasite management and finishing lambs. In many flocks also we could look at fluke control
2. The next important visit was Prelambing and after scanning. Look at managing nutrition in the prepartum ewe based on her parity. What feeds were available and what was the feed value. Assess forage and farm mineral status. What supplements and why?
Review the lamb health plan. Walkthrough the process and sheds. Space, water, hygiene, and treatments. What was the plan around best practice treatment controls for a number of conditions? There, of course, was much more needed to be done.
One big lesson I have learned is the importance of ewe nutrition in the last 4-6 weeks, particularly on colostrum quality and lamb health.
3. The third visit was at lambing time. To review the most critical time of year in the production cycle. What diseases and what was the plan ahead for parasite control.
Perhaps test a few colostrum samples and any lambs dead lambs should be post mortemed.
Plan out the grazing season, look at FECs, vaccines, minerals and other diagnostics
On farms, this worked well along with specific visits to tackle problems as they potentially arose. For example lameness issues or abortion.
The visits would also involve one longer visit looking at biosecurity and reviewing quarantine protocols for the flock. It was simple really what is working, what’s not working and what can we do differently.
The cost of flock health plans may seem prohibitive. With benchmarks though it was easy to work out a cost-benefit. For every 100 ewes bringing lambs sold by 0.2% might mean €2000 more per year. With a more comprehensive review of DLWG, this may also be achieved in a shorter period.
For bigger flocks, this approach can really pay for advisor time.
For smaller flocks, fewer visits might be appropriate but the focus should still be on where are the problems/losses and why?
Good flock health planning makes sense
I hope sheep farmers have enjoyed the flock health topics covered in #50in50.
Watch the video above as I talk through flock health plans or for more information on flock health planning email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thought for the day
Procrastination can be the enemy. Stop talking about what you are going to do and start doing!
Huge thanks to Nettex, Progiene, and Rumenco for helping me put #50in50 together for more information click the link here https://www.net-tex.co.uk/products/sheep/sheep-vitamin-mineral-supplements/cobalt-selenium-vitamin-b12-drench