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Tips for protecting the flock discussed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With many flocks lambed out and getting fat on summer pastures, summertime is one of the most important seasons for sheep producers.

Although some operations – especially those with range flocks – may take an out of sight, out of mind mentality, it is important they remember with increasingly hot temperatures, disease and sickness may pop up in a flock of sheep. 

When it comes to preventing summer sickness, producers need to ask themselves if they are truly doing everything to ensure the health of their flock. 

During an American Sheep Industry Association’s research update podcast released in May, University of California-Davis Veterinary Medicine Extension’s Dr. Rosie Busch discusses multiple topics in relation to keeping flock health in check for all seasons. 

Common diseases and symptoms in sheep 

Busch explains there are three main diseases found in sheep – respiratory sickness, foot rot and reproductive disease. 

As producers know, each of these diseases require different management methods during different seasons of the year. 

Busch notes it is very important to catch diseases early to ensure a healthy flock and explains how important recordkeeping is regardless of the size of the flock.

She states, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” 

With larger flocks, records can get long and hard to follow, but Busch reiterates the importance of having them to study when a concerning situation arises in the flock. She shares studying and comparing flock health records through the years can be a key step in identifying, preventing and treating disease. 

When it comes to flock health, most disease is out of producers’ control.

Busch notes with each disease, there is a line between a normal amount of symptom presentation and a concerning amount of disease presentation. This line is more identifiable when studying records. 

Testing and early detection 

Although testing for early disease detection is an option, many producers find it frustrating since tests are fairly ineffective in preventing disease. 

For each of the three common diseases Busch mentions, she also explains their testing methods. 

She notes there isn’t an effective way to test for reproductive diseases that result in abortion. Additionally, foot rot is hard to find in flocks unless it’s clinical, and respiratory testing is ineffective because sheep already have the bacteria living in their upper respiratory track. 

Testing for chronic disease can also be challenging, but Busch believes it is a step forward for reducing disease in flocks. Once again, she notes records are highly important when dealing with disease. 

Medical treatment

Although testing is not always the best route for early disease detection, Busch explains recognizing when something is wrong as soon as possible is critical for effective treatment strategies. She shares the best way to do this is simply by being around the flock enough to know what is normal and what isn’t.

“You miss out on a lot more by not looking than by not knowing,” she says. 

Busch expresses it is important to identify disease early because antibiotics are a lot more effective when they have less bacteria to fight off. 

Many producers make the mistake of administering antibiotics too late or using the wrong ones, which sets the flock up for failure because they have to fight off a larger number of bacteria, lessening their chance to build immunity.  

While on this topic, Busch reminds producers antibiotics labeled for sheep recently made the transition from being available over the counter to requiring a prescription. Under this new mandate, it is important for producers to have a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). 

Busch explains a VCPR is more than calling the vet and having them write a prescription. Instead, this relationship is built when vets visit a producer’s operation, get to know their animals and have conversation. 

Most producers perform annual health management practices, and most vets oversee routine practices such as preg checking and breeding exams. Busch explains on days like these, which tend to get long and tiresome, conversation usually blossoms, which creates and strengthens VCPRs. 

Common mistakes 

Busch notes there are a few commons mistakes producers make when caring for the health of their flocks. One of the most common mistakes producers make is keeping vaccines at the wrong temperature. 

One way to combat this problem is to keep vaccines, even in syringes, in coolers while processing sheep.

Another common mistake made is animal handling and time. Busch mentions the importance of planning around important dates and discusses how many vaccines can be ineffective because of high stress in an animal. 

She encourages producers to refrain from administering vaccines in animals that have to be transported in trailers for long road trips. 

The third mistake many producers make is in relation to needle use. 

Busch believes reusing needles doesn’t pose a huge risk, but it does increase the risk of abscess formation. 

Since reusing needles can be common in large flocks because of the time it would take to change needles for every sheep, Busch says a good rule of thumb is to change the needle every time the syringe is refilled. This way, no dirty needles are put back into the vile. 

Preslee Fitzwater is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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