Sheep specialist, Dr Fiona Lovatt, assured farmers that with good management most lambs should be at low risk of watery mouth & other diseases

Welsh sheep farms with good flock husbandry can prevent newborn lambs succumbing to diseases much more successfully than by routinely treating with antibiotics, especially when the focus is on colostrum and hygiene.

This was the view of sheep specialist Dr Fiona Lovatt of Flock Health Ltd, who assured farmers participating in a recent Farming Connect webinar that with good management most lambs should be at low risk of watery mouth, joint ill and other diseases.

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) targets state that it is not appropriate for all lambs to be treated routinely with antibiotics from the start of any new lambing season, and yet it remains common for farmers to orally dose all lambs for watery mouth or inject every lamb to prevent joint ill.

Preventative treatment is only justified in individuals that have a significant risk of disease, such as triplets or very small lambs, Dr Lovatt insisted. She added that while the practice of treating large numbers of healthy lambs is now less common, not a single flock should be using this approach. Apart from resistance issues, there is evidence to suggest that routine antibiotics could be detrimental to future performance because they upset the fragile gut microbiome of the newborn lamb.

“Your vet should not be prescribing antibiotics unless they are completely happy with how you are using them,’’ said Dr Lovatt.

Of the 129 farmers who participated in an anonymous poll run during the webinar, only 4% routinely gave all lambs injectable antibiotics in the last lambing season, while the majority – 64% – gave none.

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