Study reveals extent of sheep mortality

An examination of mortality in 33 Irish sheep breeding flocks has revealed average mortality of 7.9%, plus 7.6% loss of foetuses, for every 100 ewes.

The 2016 study by Department of Agriculture staff included examination of aborted foetuses, and sheep which died on farms, at regional veterinary laboratories. 

Blood samples were also taken from a representative sample of ewes on each farm in January, for abortion agent tests.

The 33 flocks had a median size of 195 ewes (the average in Ireland is about 70).

Toxoplasmosis was identified as the main cause of 324 abortions recorded in 27 flocks.

Difficult births were an important cause of the 254 deaths in lambs less than two days old, including lambs carried to full term and born dead. 

In lambs up to one month old, bacteraemia/septicaemia was the most common cause of death.

In lambs older than one month and in adults, pneumonia was most common.

Department of Agriculture staff recommended good hygiene precautions at births and ensuring all new-born lambs receive adequate colostrum.

The survey indicated the first 48 hours of life are the most critical in which to prevent losses.

Lamb and ewe mortality are important reasons for the prevailing low weaning rate nationally. The study results were given at the recent Teagasc National Sheep Conferences.

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