VET’S DIARY: Farm vets spring into action at busiest time

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Spring marks the start for the busiest time of year for the farm vets, and a change to our typical daily routine, writes Andrew Sawyer.

Our diaries, which are usually planned out weeks in advance for most of the year with scheduled calls, are noticeably emptier.

However, the onset of lambing and calving means that unforeseen emergencies and problems crop up on such a large scale that a seemingly empty day can become fully booked within just a few minutes of the first phone call of the morning.

Similarly, there are significantly more night-time emergencies to attend and a good night’s sleep becomes a luxury rather than the norm!

Whilst it can be a fairly exhausting and relentless period for us, there are plenty of positives about this busy period. The change in the work pattern is challenging, but helps to keep us all enthusiastic in our work.

There can be fewer more satisfying jobs than managing to deliver a healthy live lamb or calf.

A significant part of our work involves lambing ewes and calving cows, including caesarean sections when a normal delivery is not possible.

Aside from this, our work during the spring encompasses dealing with problems in animals in late pregnancy, and following birth, dealing with issues in newborn animals, and getting cows into a good condition for mating again in just a few months time.

Despite having a good idea what type of problems we will encounter, every springtime produces new challenges and throws up the unexpected.

This is often related to the weather we experience at this time, but also what the environmental conditions have been like earlier in the year

For example, if ewes have had a poor winter with limited grazing available, they will be in a poorer condition before lambing, and be more prone to ‘twin lamb disease’ where they are in negative energy balance.

Conversely, if conditions have led ewes to be too fat due to ‘good living’ they are more likely to experience prolapses and lambing difficulties associated with big lambs.

This year we have experienced several outbreaks of diarrhoea in groups of lambs of about a week old.

This has occurred on a number of different farms, and is not something we usually see.

The general consensus following discussion at one of our regular farm vet meeting is that this seems to have been linked to a spell of cold weather.

Whilst the exact mechanism is not clear, our educated guess is that poor weather make lambs huddle together, and so transmit infection more quickly, and combined with a disruption in feeding routine may have predisposed them to succumb to disease.

What we all agree on is that good weather certainly reduces the number of newborn disease outbreaks we have to deal with.

A good start from birth is critical to set these animals up for life as it allows a robust immune system to be developed that will be more resistant to disease and allow the animals to thrive.

We all have our fingers crossed for the weather to stay sunny for the remaining spring months,

Aside from the health benefits to our farm animals, it makes for a much more pleasant working environment for our farm vets.