In common with other farm animals, sheep suffer from a wide range of diseases such as lameness, mastitis, Sheep Scab, Watery Mouth and Toxoplasmosis. Many sheep suffer from pneumonia and hypothermia during the winter when exposed to harsh weather conditions. This is a particular problem for sheep in upland areas. More intensive farming means lambs are weaned earlier, fed on milk substitute/feed concentrates and housed indoors. Indoor housing has lead to increasing disease problems. Infectious diseases account for around 60% of lamb losses. Many of these losses could be reduced by better flock security, an effective disease control programme, and good husbandry(8). Vaccination and dipping may be used to prevent some diseases. Sheep dipping was made compulsory twice a year in 1985 but made non-compulsory again in 1992. Sheep dips contain toxic organophosphates (OP’s) which are believed to be responsible for a high incidence of severe illness in farmers. Sheep dip products safeguard sheep from pests like scab, blowfly, ticks and lice. Sheep dipping is a particular priority for Groundwater Protection Code since misuse of sheep dip has caused serious environmental damage in the past. The active ingredients of dip are generally highly toxic to aquatic life. The Regulations require that before disposing, or tipping for the purpose of disposal, a listed dangerous substance to land, authorisation should be obtained from the Environment Agency to prevent substances from entering groundwater(1).
This is one of the most widespread welfare problems in the UK sheep flock. It is a significant cause of discomfort and pain and is a major source of economic loss to the sheep industry1. Foot rot is one of the main causes of lameness, being a common, highly contagious disease of sheep, caused by a dual infection with the bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necrophorum (the same bacterium that causes scald). Infection is encouraged by a high stocking density in housing and pens.
This is a painful infection of the mammary gland (udder) caused mainly by bacteria such as streptococci, coliforms and staphylococci. Severe infections cause swelling of the udder, fever and sometimes death. Most cases of this occur after lambing and during the first month of lactation. This affects 1-15% of sheep(9).
This is caused by the ingestion of E. coli at or around birth. The lack of colostrum (the first milk a ewe produces for its young) is a major factor as it helps combat bacterial infections. Good hygiene is an essential and effective means of prevention.
Skin & Internal Parasites
These include Sheep Scab, Lice, Blow fly, Ticks, Head Fly, and Worms. Sheep scab is spread mainly by sheep to sheep contact and is caused by mites. Sheep scab and myiasis (blowfly strike) are distressing and potentially fatal contagious diseases in sheep. These are prevented by sheep dipping.
Toxoplasmosis is picked up from pasture, hay, concentrate feeds, etc. which have been contaminated by cat faeces. The disease is caused by the organism Toxoplasma gondii and is an important cause of death in unborn lambs. Toxoplasma infects all warm-blooded animals but an essential stage of its life cycle occurs only in cats. Sheep can be vaccinated against this infection.
Sheep are 10 times more susceptible to copper toxicity than cattle. When copper is consumed over a long period of time, the excess is stored in the liver. No damage occurs until a toxic level is reached at which time there is a haemolytic crisis with destruction of red blood cells. Most outbreaks of copper poisoning in sheep can be traced to feeding supplements containing copper levels that have been formulated for cattle or pigs. Affected animals suddenly go off their feed and become weak(10).
This is a fatal brain disease of sheep (and occasionally goats). The infection is thought to be caused by a protein called a prion. The way in which the disease is contracted and spread is not fully understood. The disease occurs in the UK and many other countries, with Australia and New Zealand being free of scrapie. The clinical signs include skin irritation, excitability, hind limb weakness and loss of condition which develops gradually months or years after the animal has become infected(1).
Foot and Mouth
This is an infectious disease caused by a virus (of which there are 7 types). The virus affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. The disease is not normally fatal to adult animals but it does cause debilitation and loss of productivity for farmers (such as lameness). The virus causes a fever and the development of blisters, mostly in the mouth and on the feet. Animals contract the disease by either direct contact with an infected animal or contact with foodstuffs, etc. which have become contaminated by an infected animal. The UK last experienced the disease in 2001, with 2,030 confirmed cases of foot and mouth spread across the country. Almost 5 million Sheep were culled as a result of this outbreak(1).
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