More than 200 progressive sheep producers attended a collaborative event at Duchy College Farm in Cornwall, organised by the South West Initiative for Sheep Health (SWISH) in conjunction with Project L.A.M.B.1 from MSD Animal Health.

Following two keynote presentations on how to tackle flock lameness and making the most of grass, farmers also circulated around five interactive stations run by a range of industry specialists in the fields of sheep genetics, health, nutrition and electronic identification, as well as having the opportunity to talk to representatives from AHDB, NSA and the government.

SWISH was formed by MSD Animal Health representatives in 2016, bringing together ten south west based sheep-interested veterinary practices and two laboratories to create a unified voice on flock health.

Independent sheep vet Phillipa Page discussed implementation of the proven five-point plan for reducing sheep lameness on her farm, saying that weaning was a great time to take the first step towards better disease control.

“Implementation of the five-point lameness reduction plan is helping the sector reduce antibiotic usage for bacterial foot infections and meet new RUMA targets – 65% of antibiotics currently used in sheep are prescribed for the treatment of lameness2,” she said.

“Implemented correctly and given long term commitment, the five-point plan gives sheep producers a clear framework for managing lameness effectively because it builds natural disease resilience within the flock; reduces the disease challenge and spread on farm; and improves flock immunity through vaccination.”

Despite one of the most difficult grass growing years in living memory, Gareth Davies from Gareth Grassland urged sheep farmers to maximise use of their most precious asset.

“This summer’s drought has certainly been challenging and no amount of planning and management can make up for a total lack of moisture. But, typically, the biggest issue I find is convincing sheep farmers to take sheep out of a field when there is still some grass on it. “Invariably, summer paddocks are grazed until they are bare, but it is vital to leave a residual of 4cm to ensure speedy re-growth with high quality,” he said.

He advised farmers to analyse lamb and grass output per hectare, rather than simply measure output per ewe, and explore the benefits of rotational grazing.

“Look after soil nutrition as a priority and work with the grass plant, not against it. No two farms are the same but think about matching your stocking rate to your grass growth and graze and rest fields. That’s the best strategy for making the most of your primary sheep nutrition asset,” he said.