Sheep and Death (a seasonal reflection!) (Part Two)

Sheep and Death (a seasonal reflection!) (Part Two)

Image courtesy of the BBC

A difficult year?

We all also know that each year brings its own challenges, particularly the weather – too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, or mainly too much of these at a time!  My own experience this year has not been easy and I will share some of it … firstly the lambing was good, with two live lambs per ewe.  Some were rejected, so we ended up with two bottle-fed babies, which survived, even the ewe born weighing 0.5kg.  They were born in March-April and all went on well to weaning and then to first shear in early July, when the shearer remarked how well they looked.  However, we had problems with a couple of ewes, two with mastitis and one sudden death, for no apparent reason, so it is probably that some of the apparently healthy lambs were not getting all the nourishment they needed.  So fairly early weaning and shearing were additional stresses.

Then the problems started: weak, thin, declining and a couple of deaths.  Worming made no difference so faecal egg counts then established that the problem was coccidiosis, which meant that we treated later than ideal and therefore lost some, which makes me feel really bad.  Then came more: again weakness, which eventually was diagnosed as the blood-sucking barber pole worm – easy to treat if you know!  But we are also trying to minimise our worming regime in order to reduce the chances of resistance.  This is a lesson learned hard and means needing to do more regular fecal egg counts and be more proactive.  Treating and caring for the lambs meant that some who were quite sick did in the end survive but the overall result is now that we have one live lamb for every ewe.  Of course we did a pre-emptive strike on potential fluke!

This has been sad and salutary, and I am living with guilt at the suffering I allowed to happen and of course quite expensive vet and knacker bills.  It also means I have put less ewes to the ram this year, focussing on really fit ewes, and of course the result is some pretty grumpy and frustrated ewes and rams!  I keep telling them it’s for their own good – and there are mixed views as to whether ewes in lamb thrive better and ewes given a year off will have difficulty getting in lamb, while rams are supposed to work every year … so there may be other consequences next year too …

Further Infomation

Sifting through the incoming avalanche of advice, we have updated our advice sheets and annual calendar, to be found at 
Free options:
These sheets cover the basics: worms, coccidiosis, fluke, flystrike and feet.  The illustrations on this blog item are the images of some of these So, apart from relying on habit, you can start with us and the links and references in our advice notes, and there are some very useful and constantly updated sources around:


Membership resources:

  • Consider joining the National Sheep Association, (NSA) as their quarterly Sheep Farmer, Sheep Breeder, Forage Matters and Lamb Focus magazines also include very useful supplements, such as a recent one from Zoetis on livestock productivity from grass and silage with seasonal worming programmes and a useful DIY fly trap design, plus the regular study reports from the Moredun Research institute

    • The Lamb Focus magazine for Spring 2016 contained a useful article on using alpacas to keep predators from lambs, and also stressed the importance of finding an alpaca with the right attitude to dogs, foxes and badgers!
    • Spring 2016 for Forage Matters included an article on dealing with recovery fields after the wet winter, to repair compaction, regain pH balance and minerals, etc. and also an article from Cotswold Seeds on selecting the correct seeds and plants for a herbal ley
  • You can also consider directly joining the Moredun Research Institute, or just take a look at their summary of disease reports (filtered for references to sheep)
  • Join your breed society (or indeed one of the larger ones as a non-flock member, for additional information): a recent Jacob Journal had excellent articles on weaning lambs, udder health status and creep feeding lambs – all very current topics.  The important benefits of breed societies are access to breed-relevant experience and advice, a significant marketing outlet for stock and other products, along with promotion and public relations and access to high quality breeding stock
  • Keep an eye on the farming press: Bluetongue is spreading again and is a dreadful disease – please complete the NSA Bluetongue survey if you see it, to ensure that sufficient vaccine is made available
  • Join the Soil Association if you are interested in organic farming or the Rare Breeds Survival Trust if you are interested in native and rare breeds – their magazines often have articles of both general and specific interest and cover innovation and news as well as information on political change