Avoiding the evils of drugs for sheep

Sue Blacker's picture
29 July, 2015 - 17:11 | Sue Blacker

Recently some new customers have been disappointed to discover that we cannot accept fleece which has been treated with pesticides in the four months prior to shearing. 

Those who are willing have then chosen to wash the fleeces at home and then we can accept them as a significant proportion of the pesticide will have gone. For instructions on how to do this, please see our advice and information sheet.

So why, you may ask, should we work differently at the mill from at home?

Here is the explanation:

  • as an industrial premises, we are regulated as to all the waste we create which may have any impact on the environment: not only our effluent but other waste streams as well
  • homes individually rarely use 12 tonnes of water and 20 kilograms of detergent a month so we have a rather greater impact than individual home washing
  • homes are dealt with by the water company, and pay for water and sewage treatment in the same way as us, but our effluent has to be tested before it is accepted
  • even our dye effluent has immeasurably small amounts of pesticide residues, when tested, which even though not quantifiable are unacceptable, while our main scour effluent has quite large amounts which are out of the question
  • our tests show that the effluent, even allowing for the three month withdrawal period, still contains pesticides and we assume that this is because sheep ingest the pesticides over time
  • organo phosphates are now rarely used and the sheep sprays and dip tanks have to be fully contained and disposed of to licensed facilities
  • as permethrins, which are the key active ingredient in pour-on pesticides, are poisonous to algae and fish, and almost all sewage eventually ends up in water-courses, this is a serious risk and has to be avoided
  • permethrins will bio-degrade in alkaline conditions and ultra violet light, so will gradually become neutralised as they soak through soil
  • so our scour effluent goes by tanker to a licensed site where the residues will not be dangerous by the time they reach the water
  • it was actually probably the last straw which broke the camel's back for Buckfast Spinning when they were asked to spend a great deal more on their already very expensive modern effluent treatment plant which had enabled them to take water from the River Dart, use it, clean it and return it - the pervasiveness of pesticides is considerable - and of course it is intended that this should be the case to deal with preventing blow-fly strike
  • there is a small amount of evidence that flies may be developing resistance to fly-strike pesticides: we think this is because the persistent small residues enable the flies, like medieval kings afraid of being poisoned, to take in small regular amounts and build immunity.

Here is our scourer, which is a bit different from a kitchen sink, bucket, trough or bath!

So it is best, not only for the environment but for the longterm prevention of pesticide resistance, to avoid using these pesticides and resist the shroud-waving adverts from their manufacturers, as far as possible.

Key actions to take are:

  • avoid letting sheep scour: flies like dirt
  • treat any injuries promptly: flies like blood and wounds
  • shear as early as practical: the fly eggs are laid in the fleece, so shorn sheep are not attractive to flies
  • if it's hot and humid and you suspect the flies will be on the rampage, both before and after shearing, crutch shear the sheep to leave the riskiest area clean - remember flies like sweaty areas like arm-pits, scrotums and the area between a horn and the cheek
  • consider using the anti-fly sprays for horses, containing tea-tree, citronella, neem, or bergamot essential oils - or make up your own with water, and a little vegetable oil to emulsify the mix, in a plant spray bottle
  • watch carefully, every day, for symptoms: sheep apart from the flock, rubbing against fence posts, with damp-looking patches as if a glass of water had been spilled on them - these are the early signs and immediate detailed inspection and treatment with disinfectant may be all that is needed - but remember that a bad patch may not be the only one so shearing the whole animal might be sensible in some cases, parituclarly with densely fleeced animals like downland sheep - really early treatment before the maggots get to the skin will also help avoid an anti-biotic injection
  • keep sheep on high, windy areas, away from watercourses, trees and muck heaps; all beloved of flies
  • take advice and avoid having a sheep breed susceptible to flystrike - especially if you are unable to avoid keeping them near trees and watercourses
  • flystrike is like bad feet - and should be considered as a reason for culling
  • take a look online for fly traps, which also can be pretty effective
  • watch for limps - flies can also like feet - though the maggots will at least clean out any foot rot ...
  • if you have treated, you should have recorded the treatment, so simply leave this fleece out of the batch you send to us for shearing

So observation and anticipation are key and you will save money, the envronment and your sheep from  discomfort or worse, while giving yourself the opportunity to add value to the fleeces with our help!


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