Livestock Health and Wellbeing
The welfare of our animals is our highest priority and to this end they are raised in the most natural way possible on 100% grass, with minimum intervention and minimum stress. However every year the livestock do need certain medications and interventions to keep them well throughout the different seasons and we need to be constantly up to date on anything which needs doing.
One of the most important part of farming for us is the Animal Health Plan drawn up with the vet. Our cattle are managed under the Premium Cattle Health Scheme (PCHS). This helps us to ensure the best health for the cattle by operating a programme of testing and management to control major endemic cattle diseases including BVD, Johne’s Disease, IBR, Leptospirosis and Neospora. This entails doing blood tests once a year – we dovetail this with the TB testing. As we are in a high TB area the cattle are tested for TB annually, so far we have been clear…..
Along with this the cattle are bollused twice a year with slow release mineral supplements and have their hooves checked annually. We do try to minimise any drug use, we do not routinely worm the animals (only if we see evidence they need it) and occasionally they need to be treated for mites.
However there are some diseases for which the animals do need regular vaccinations:
The sheep need to have a Heptovac vaccination annually this protects them against a multitude of chlostridial diseases – lamb dysentery, pulpy kidney, struck, tetanus, braxy, blackleg, black disease and clostridial metritis.
We have had a problem with Orf this year (a highly contagious self limiting viral disease) which causes sores around the mouth resulting in loss of weight due to not eating and general loss of condition. We will therefore be vaccinating the young lambs against this next year as they can be very unwell with it.
The sheep need to be sheared annually (usually May/June) to prevent them overheating and to help against mites, maggots and other pests. As we learnt last year flystrike can happen very quickly and can have devastating results, once sheared around 4 weeks later the sheep are treated with a pour-on to prevent the larva from blowflies hatching.
Apart from a few weeks lambing in Feb/March we try to keep all the animals outside all year, very occasionally if one is unwell we may bring it in for observation. Most of our field boundaries are dry stone walls which offer amazing protection from the wind and rain. We are very lucky that as a small farm we are able to check everyone twice a day (more when they are heavily pregnant) and can usually spot when one of the animals is feeling unwell just by their behaviour. By noticing any change in behaviour early it is often possible to minimise any problems they have.
Both cattle and sheep are very social animals and really dislike being on their own. So when Tim (our bull) and Trevor and Kev (our Rams) are not in with their girls we make sure they have company by putting Tim in with any of the older males calves and Trevor in with Kev – or all in together!
When weaning the calves rather than just completely separating them from their mothers we use a device called a Quick Weaner, which clips onto their nose. This prevents them from drinking from their mother but allows them to eat grass. This stays on for about a week allowing them to have the comfort of remaining within the herd environment and with the mother whilst getting used to just eating grass. They are then put into a separate field and the Quick Weaners are then taken off. In our limited experience the calves seem less noisy and more settled when separated like this.
Biosecurity is another area we have to pay attention to. We are fortunate in that none of our animals have nose to nose contact with any others off the farm, which helps prevent infection. Any new animals bought onto the farm are tested for all major diseases prior to arriving and then put into quarantine for a certain amount of time to make sure they are free of any infection before they mix with the rest. Luckily we have no public footpaths crossing our pastureland and we ensure there is disinfectant available for scrubbing boots of visitors.