Stock health an autumn priority

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

With saleyard prices for ewes in WA averaging about $100 a head and in some cases reaching as high as $220/head for top lines of first-cross ewes, ensuring the health of the flock is a top priority this autumn.

After such a dry spring and summer, many producers have been hand-feeding ewes for close to 12 months and, as a result, occurrences of pregnancy toxaemia and hypocalcaemia are on the rise in some parts of the State.

Pregnancy toxaemia and hypocalcaemia are two metabolic diseases of ewes in the late stages of pregnancy. In severe cases, they cause high losses of ewes and lambs.

These diseases can initially appear similar and be triggered by similar factors, and they can occur together. Pregnancy toxaemia is the most common of the two diseases.

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Due to poor spring feed growth and below-average stubble volumes this year, veterinarians suggest lambing ewes need special attention over the late autumn and early winter.

Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) veterinary officers have received reports of ewes having difficulty birthing big lambs this season, with some reports of losses due to pregnancy toxaemia.

Katanning DAFWA veterinarian officer Trudy Clark said following Easter, she had received calls from producers experiencing high numbers of sheep dying.

She said while many assumed the losses were due to pregnancy toxaemia, there was also an increased risk of hypocalcemia this year.

“We have seen a few ewes, wethers and rams dying from hypocalcemia,” Dr Clark said. “Producers have been feeding sheep (on average) twice a week with cereal grains, which is enough to set up a calcium deficiency causing hypocalcemia.”

Dr Clark said many producers had never had their flock’s cereal grain diet balanced for calcium.

Hypocalcemia is being experienced more so in the northern and eastern areas of the Great Southern where feeding of cereal grains has been ongoing for the best part of 12 months.

She said feeding pellets provided more of a balanced diet for sheep when it came to calcium requirements, but cereal grains were entirely unbalanced.

Dr Clark said urea poisoning was also another problem producers should be watching out for.

She cited a recent case of a farmer losing sheep after carting water in a tank that had some liquid urea remaining in the bottom. In another case, sheep were poisoned after drinking from puddles around a shed that contained urea where the urea.

Low dam water levels were also a concern for livestock with salt levels high enough to cause salt poisoning.

DAFWA has received reports of health problems, and some deaths, from cattle drinking saline water from South West river sources.

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