VET’S DIARY: We don’t want another year like the last one

I have been working at the Rothbury surgery over five years now and in that time I have been faced with many veterinary challenges that have related to changing weather patterns, writes Jenny Hull.

We’ve seen the emergence of two new insect-borne viruses: Bluetongue and Schmallenberg, two horrendous winters of snow which have challenged stock survival and feed costs, two consecutive wet summers consisting of ‘grab and run’ harvests, and increase in the incidence of mycotoxin toxicity from mouldy feed.

Also, there has been an increase in Cryptosporidum scour outbreaks (possibly water-borne spread) in both lambs and calves, never-ending pneumonia outbreaks due to the changeable winter weather and an increase in worm burdens and fluke due to the wet summers.

The veterinary year follows the farming year, it moves in cycles. 2012’s opening was rocked by the emergence of Schmallenberg in the south of the country which coincided with lambing time. It was followed by an unseasonably nice March which was great for the early lambers but was followed by snow in late April which led to greater lamb losses for late lambers.

From April onwards it seemed to keep raining. Scoured youngstock was a perpetual problem all summer and poor grazing quality lead to greater trace element deficiencies. Has the higher rainfall leached the elements from the ground or have the lower temperatures reduced uptake by the grass?

The autumn and year end was dominated by liver fluke. Tragically, we witnessed sudden deaths in ewes in huge numbers on some farms. Also, most worryingly for us, is the development of Triclabendazole resistant fluke. Triclabendazole drench is the most effective fluke drench as it is the only product to kill all immature fluke down to two days old in sheep.

Management of fluke will have to change in the future with less reliance on Flukicides and more land management changes including fencing off wet areas, drainage and perhaps planting willow etc. on wet ground to reduce disease pressure.

It is still early on in 2013 so we do not know what the rest of the year will hold but the long, cold winter, with snow continuing to fall late in March, is making lambing difficult with lambs perishing in the cold. We have also had problems with poor colostrum quality in ewes that are lambing in poor condition and lammacs that we put on lambs to keep them warm have been blowing away in the high winds. All of these factors have already had a negative impact on our early lambers. Spring officially started last week yet it has felt far from spring-like and I’m just hoping for warmth, sunshine, green grass and no rain from here on out and we can only hope conditions improve quickly.

In the rest of 2013 we will potentially see Schmallenberg problems in the north, a continuing fluke problem and an emergence of Triclabendazole resistant fluke. Despite all this and the weather and the climate always being a challenge to farming, many of our farmers have managed to increase their output over the last few years with pro-active health planning approaches and by capitalising on the increased value of stock.