New Farmer Engagement Tool Set to Help Vets Improve Flock Health on GB Sheep Farms

A new checklist-based audit tool from MSD Animal Health is set to help vets in practice engage more proactively with GB sheep farmers.

At a time when the profession has a unique opportunity to forge closer links with sheep farmers – thanks to the new government funding available under the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway Scheme – this highly practical consultation platform enables development of an action plan to help shepherds address the key areas influencing flock health and productivity.

Developed by experienced sheep vets in association with MSD Animal Health1, the new Flock Health Checklist helps practitioners assess performance across the three crucial time periods and two key management processes impacting on the success of sheep enterprises (see figure 1 below).

“We have developed this new performance checklist drawing on specialist sheep vet working experiences, clinical research studies, economic data and industry recommendations,” explains Dr Kat Baxter-Smith, veterinary adviser with MSD Animal Health.

“For example, the pre-breeding period is a great time to make sure ewes and rams are as fit and healthy as possible. Good practice and preparation in this area will go a long way to minimising stress and problems during a busy lambing period.”

She adds that the late pregnancy and lambing period is also a vital time – and is the busiest few weeks on any sheep farm.

The new Flock Health Checklist enables the farm vet to ask a series of questions covering two key management processes: disease management and biosecurity; and how flock performance is currently monitored.

Figure 1: The key time periods and processes impacting on optimum flock performance
1. The breeding period and early pregnancy
2. Late pregnancy and lambing
3. Growth, weaning and sale
4. Disease and biosecurity
5. Monitoring flock performance

“Having pre-agreed protocols for this important period in the sheep farming calendar – and keeping a record of issues that arise – will go a long way to making sure subsequent lambing seasons go as smoothly as possible.”

Growth, weaning and sale is the third crucial time period and the Flock Health Checklist incorporates an additional series of audit-based questions designed to pinpoint system stengths and weaknesses.

“It is vital that lambs grow as quickly as possible – but not at the expense of the ewe. Looking after breeding ewes during lactation and after weaning is just as important as monitoring the weight gain and performance of your lambs during this period of intense growth,” says Dr Baxter-Smith.

The Flock Health Checklist also enables a vet to ask a series of questions covering two key management processes: disease management and biosecurity; and how flock performance is currently monitored.

“Working through a series of 10 questions within each of the three crucial time periods and two key management processes – designed to tease out where a sheep unit is in terms of accepted best management practice – allows vet and farmer to quickly pinpoint any areas needing attention. What’s more, repeating the checklist every six or 12 months is a great way to keep things on track, allowing both parties to montor performance against agreed targets,” says Dr Baxter-Smith.

“Similar types of checklist have been available to dairy youngstock rearing units and beef suckler herds for a couple of years now, with several vets reporting that these tools have proved integral to their productivity improvement work with farmer clients. Use of this checklist-based approach is also helping better implementation of preventative health practices such as vaccination. We hope this latest tool will help the GB sheep industry similarly.”

Vets interested in further information should contact their local MSD Animal Health account manager.