Newsletter January 2022

Watery mouth and Spectam Scourhalt

We are plagued with supply problems for various medicines and other essentials. One of the current supply chain failures is for the widely used Spectam Scourhalt which we use for the control of watery mouth in lambs. There is no licensed alternative product, and so we are having to implement the cascade system of medicine prescription, but this has serious restrictions on our legal rights to prescribe.

Watery Mouth is a common, but avoidable, disease of neonatal lambs. The main cause is an enteropathogenic E.coli which infects the gut of the new born lamb and produces a toxin that affects the gut and other organs in these most susceptible of animals. Clinically, the lambs show abdominal pain, cold, watery mouths, and often an enlarged and dilated abdomen, giving the alternative description of “rattle belly”. Affected lambs die quickly: the rapid onset of severe clinical signs make these animals difficult to treat.

The particular E.coli that causes the problem is commonly carried by adult sheep in their guts, without any associated clinical signs, and so the environment is contaminated by the faeces from carrier sheep. The new born lamb has no protection against the infection at birth, and is totally reliant on good quality colostrum (which contains a lot of protective components and effectively prevents Watery Mouth). However, it is essential that the colostrum gets in to the lamb before the E.coli, as the pathogenic organism has the ability to adhere to the gut wall and survive the protective effects of colostrum if it gets there first.

Prevention depends upon hygiene to reduce the infective load in and around the lambing pens (including maintaining clean sheep – shearing of housed ewes helps enormously) and getting good quality colostrum in to lambs before they get a chance to be infected.

All easier said than done, but here are some tips:

  • Keep your sheep clean – new born lambs are prone to nuzzling their way along a dirty, contaminated belly of their mother before finding the teat filled with lovely colostrum. This way, the infection can get in before the colostrum, so try and keep the ewes clean. Shear them and keep them on clean bedding prior to lambing.
  • Ensure good quality colostrum, by feeding the ewes a good diet. Keep a supply of good colostrum to help those lambs born to ewes without any.
  • Get the colostrum in quickly – the colostrum must win the race to the lambs’ intestine before any E.coli can get established.
  • Identify high risk ewes and lambs, and give them special attention – doubles and particularly triplets are at much higher risk, and ewes with udders that are difficult to suck from. Make sure these lambs get colostrum by tube – we can show you how to tube a lamb safely and effectively.
  • Keep the pens clean and dry – avoid environmental infection by keeping all the lambing pens clean and dry: dehydrated lime is as good as any disinfectant and dries out the bedding if used as a base under the straw. A dry environment is as important as a clean one – these bacteria cannot walk in to a lamb’s mouth – they need moisture to transmit.

When all else fails, and if an outbreak of watery mouth seems likely, then we can use antibiotics to prevent and control the disease. In the absence of Spectam Scourhalt , we have alternatives in a similar category of antibiotic that can be used, either orally or by injection. However, as these products are not licensed, we have to comply with some special legal requirements on prescribing. And minimise their use.

If you think your flock is at special risk of watery mouth, we will provide a flock specific prevention and control plan which may include the use of unlicensed antibiotics or other treatments that are most appropriate to the situation. This will require a visit from one of our vets, who will conduct a flock specific risk assessment and provide a neonatal disease management plan for you. If this involves the use of antibiotics, these will be specified in the plan and they can then be dispensed from one of the surgeries without further veterinary intervention. The prescription notes will be on your farm records, and so appropriate amounts will be dispensed as and when you need them.

There will be an inevitable cost to the plan, including the visit and time taken to discuss and formulate an agreeable and effective plan, but we are confident that it will lead to a better and more effective prevention and treatment for watery mouth and other neonatal diseases that can lead to the loss of valuable lambs at this time of year. Unfortunately, we are unable to prescribe prophylactic antibiotics for the control and prevention of watery mouth and other neonatal diseases without a proper veterinary plan.

TB Testing

You may be aware that our area has now been included in the new DEFRA TB testing programme that requires most herds that are currently Officially TB Free (OTBF) to have routine tests every six months. Some herds remain on annual testing, and it has been difficult to predict how this will affect our testing work as the increased frequency does not affect those herds already under restrictions (about 20% of all our herds at any one time) and some herds that are considered as low risk.

There has been an inevitable increase in demand for testing, and testing windows are becoming ever more restrictive, putting pressure on all the vets and support staff. Please can you ensure that you arrange testing as early as possible – as soon as you are notified. Meg is responsible for the unenviable job of organising the testing programme which now involves testing over 150,000 animals per year, so please get in touch as soon as you can and be reasonable about finding dates and times to get the job done.

Our system of incentivising and rewarding good handling and safe, speedy tests remains. To avoid any penalties, please ensure that you are ready for us, have good handling, and plenty help. We expect to test 70 animals per hour on day one for those herds that have opted for our peak time option, and 50 animals per hour for those who have selected off peak – where we come at our convenience rather than yours. We can easily achieve these rates if the animals are ready, you have decent handling, and adequate experienced helpers. It’s not us that determines the speed and efficiency of a test – its you!

Seasonal Sheep Offer: January – April 2022

Book in any sheep or lamb between 2.00 and 5.30pm on any working weekday and we will fix it for a fixed price of £38.00 plus the costs of any materials or medicines.

  • Lambing
  • Caesarean section
  • Vaginal or uterine prolapse
  • Fractures
  • Umbilical prolapse
  • Entropion injections
  • Sick sheep and lambs

Call us and book them in to the Witheridge Surgery 01884 860236.

Lambing offer

We are repeating our seasonal lambing offer for the coming lambing season. Please note that this offer is based around the principle that we generally have available vets in the afternoons who can provide this subsidised service at the surgery. Sometimes they are doing other things, so it is essential that you call and make sure someone is available and there is a suitable slot for you. If you just turn up, unannounced, it may be that you may have to wait until a vet is available.

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